January 14, 2014

HOOPS: Gators thump Dawgs, break school-record home winning streak

 

GAINESVILLE -- No. 7 Florida dismantled Georgia in a laugher Tuesday night, dominating a rattled Bulldogs team 72-50 en route to a school-record 25th consecutive victory inside the O'Connell Center. 

Sophomore sniper Michael Frazier scored a career-high 21 points, as Florida (14-2, 3-0 SEC) drilled a season-high 11 3-pointers -- including six-straight during a shooting barrage in the second half. 

"We did a really good job tonight -- to our guys' credit -- not baiting and taking the first three," UF coach Billy Donovan said. "We moved the ball. When it hit the paint, it came back out and we shot it. Those are the threes you want to shoot." 

Frazier, who struggled early (just 1-of-8 from downtown) and was actually pressed by teammates and coaches to shoot more, nailed four treys in three minutes as UF extended its lead to a game-high 31 points with three minutes remaining in the second half. 

"[Donovan] sparked me," Frazier said. "He told us sometimes he has more confidence than we do un ourselves. Once he said that I just kept shooting."  

Georgia (8-7, 2-1 SEC) actually entered the meeting undefeated in conference play and briefly led 2-0 in the game's opening minute, but the Bulldogs never held a lead the rest of the night.  

UGA's recent run of surprising play was quite short-lived, as Florida -- playing without leading scorer Casey Prather (knee bruise) -- jumped out to a 36-16 halftime lead thanks to 17 points off 12 UGA turnovers. 

The Bulldogs scored a season-low 16 first-half points.

Florida -- No. 16 nationally in defensive efficiency -- suffocated Georgia with a blitzing full-court press and a constantly changing two-man trap. 

The Gators exploded for a 26-4 run -- including 11-0 and 10-0 spurts -- to cruise towards its eighth-straight victory.  

UGA, clearly rattled by UF's relentless pressure, self-combusted facing UF's tenacious press coupled with its raucous crowd. 

"We did a really good job with our press," Donovan said. "I was happy with the way we played."

Georgia point guard Charles Mann, the reining SEC Player of the Week, had a disastrous performance, as Scottie Wilbekin & Co. harassed the sophomore guard into five turnovers -- all in the first half. Mann finished the evening with just two assists and eight points. 

"We lost our poise," Georgia forward Marcus Thornton said. "Once you get behind the eight-ball in a place like Florida, they will crush you quickly. The game was decided right there in the first half."  

Per usual, Florida was forced to overcome a short second-half lull, but Georgia never cut the deficit under 14. 

"It's really hard to get guys to try to sustain that intensity for 40 minutes," Donovan said. "We had a spurt there in the second half where we weren't great, but then I thought we exploded late. With about 10 minutes to go in the game we really exploded offensively and got some stops."

Seniors Will Yeguete (12 points, six rebounds) and Patric Young (10 points, nine rebounds) -- on Patric Young Beard Night -- chipped in solid performances, while sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith (14 points, five rebounds, three assists) continued his recent consistent play.  

THIS & THAT

Several students wore homemade "FREE CHRIS WALKER" t-shirts, as the freshman forward remains in limbo waiting for the NCAA's ruling on eligibly.

Bd-pPglCcAA0REu(Courtesy @osgators)

Florida's Rowdy Reptiles continuously chanted the slogan throughout the evening. … Former Gators Chris Richard (2003-07) and Erik Murphy (2009-13) were in attendance. … Florida's backcourt -- Wilbekin and freshman Kasey Hill -- combined for 10 assists (five each), four steals and zero turnovers. … The Gators and Bulldogs finished with identical rebounding numbers: 23 total, 11 offensive. 

VIDEO: Donovan talks UF's defensive effort and getting his senior-laden team to buy into his scheme

  

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Roper unveils new-look offense, accepts daunting challenge

 

GAINESVILLE -- Outsiders -- especially much of the media -- see the current state of Florida’s football program as a cesspool of turmoil, risk and unmitigated stubbornness.  

Kurt Roper sees it differently.

He sees opportunity.

Florida’s newest offensive coordinator, officially introduced Monday, called UF “a special place” and refused to shy away from the lofty expectations and potential do-or-die scenario of 2014.

“I thought it was a great opportunity for my career,” Roper said, who confirmed he will install an up-tempo scheme with lots of spread principles.

“Leaving Duke was never easy. I’m a guy that hasn’t moved much in this profession. I’ve been fortunate. It’s not easy. My brother works on that staff. I had to leave him. And I got two kids that were growing up with his two kids. So none of those decisions are easy. But I think it goes to show why this is such a right decision, for me to walk away from that situation is I think this is a great opportunity.”

A longtime Lieutenant of Duke head coach David Cutcliffe, Roper said he came to Gainesville because “Florida is one of the obvious mainstays of college football,” and “it’s a chance to compete for championships.”

Roper’s affable moxie and Southern drawl seem straight out of Mayberry, but the 18-year assistant is hardly in store for any wholesome fun in Gainesville this offseason.  

The quarterbacks guru and well-regarded playcaller -- hired on Dec. 26 -- is tasked with transforming UF’s dumpster fire attack into an explosive offense -- one that’s finished in the bottom-20 nationally (No. 113, No. 103, No. 105) for three consecutive seasons and has started five different quarterbacks in the past three years.   

“It’s not Mission Difficult, Mr. Hunt Roper. It’s Mission Impossible. Difficult should be a walk in the park for you.”

Roper inherits an attack devoid of direction, development and depth. Late in Florida’s 4-8 season -- its first losing campaign in 34 years -- coach Will Muschamp called the offense’s struggles “infectious” and now the unit’s improvement (however quantified in 2014) likely holds the fate to Muschamp’s future with the Gators.

No pressure.

“The expectations are obviously high, but that's a good thing,” Roper acknowledged. “That's why you end up with good football players here because they want to come to a place where winning has happened and winning will happen again. … I think every coach understands winning is the bottom line in this profession, no matter where you go.”

Roper further scoffed at any one-and-done urgency, saying, “I don’t think I’ve ever gone into any season not thinking we couldn’t win. All the tools are going to be in place for us to go and win football games. And we’ll learn more about the players that we have in place here. But obviously, there’s guys that can catch the football, run the football, throw the football, and we’ve got to figure out the best way to structure it to put those guys in place to do that.”

Muschamp, who hired his third offensive coordinator in four seasons, said he “had a little more time” to research his latest hire, honing in on Roper following a detailed search. 

“We needed to be more tempo. We needed to create more snaps. We needed to create more space plays,” Muschamp said. “I formed about four or five candidates that I felt had serious interest in the job and Kurt Roper's name kept coming up.”

While Muschamp has seemingly embraced a different offensive philosophy, Florida’s coach continued to preach “balance” and again denied the assertion he’s handcuffed his two former coordinators (Brent Pease, Charlie Weis).

“I have called that many plays since I’ve been at the University of Florida,” Muschamp said, making a zero with his hand.

“[Kurt] will have the autonomy to run the offense and stay balanced.”

And yet, Roper never mentioned the word balance during his 20-minute session with the media.

His philosophy is much simpler and less measured: score points.

“Our whole philosophy on offense is points per game,” he explained. “It's not yards. It's not going up and down the field. It's how many points we can get. Hopefully we're a PPG team. … If you can play the game with some tempo and speed and you can play it in space, you can create as many 1-on-1 tackle opportunities as you can.”

Boom.

Points over platitudes -- for the January win, at least.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

January 13, 2014

Driskel set for spring, Jones scheduled for second surgery

GAINESVILLE -- Florida coach Will Muschamp formally introduced three new assistant coaches Monday, but he also updated UF’s extensive injury report and hinted at a blank-slate approach to spring practice.

The Gators -- decimated by 11 season-ending injuries during their dismal 4-8 campaign -- will enter spring camp (tentatively starting March 19) with their former starting quarterback healthy but remain shorthanded elsewhere. 

Junior signal caller Jeff Driskel, who broke his leg against Tennessee last September, should be ready for spring practice, according to Muschamp.

130704123609-jeff-driskel-story-body(Courtesy sportsillustrated.com)

“His rehab is coming along very well,” UF’s coach said.

The Gators pushed back camp roughly one week in order to give Driskel the most time to heal.

The prognosis was not so good for junior tailback Matt Jones, who sustained a complete radial tear in his left meniscus (Oct. 12) and will miss spring practice following a second procedure expected to take place in about a month.

Muschamp said Jones’ initial surgery repaired “60 percent of the meniscus” and is hopeful the tailback will be ready for the start of preseason camp in August.  

“He had a radial tear, which basically splits the meniscus in half,” Muschamp explained. “We’re going to go back and build the quad back and then we’re going to come back in three or four weeks to have a scope to repair the remaining 40 percent. Our orthopedics feel very confident that they’re going to be able to do so. … We’re very optimistic about the meniscus being fine.”

Florida_Tennessee_Football(4)_t607(Courtesy media.naplesnews.com)

Also sidelined for spring practice are linebackers Matt Rolin (torn ACL) and Alex Anzalone (torn labrum), as well as special teams ace Jeremi Powell (torn ACL). Wideout/kick returner Andre Debose (torn ACL) is expected to participate in all non-contact drills, while offensive tackle Tyler Moore (fractured elbow) will have an X-ray in a couple weeks to determine his status for the 15 practices. Finally, redshirt freshman offensive lineman Octavius Jackson had offseason shoulder surgery to repair “a chronic issue,” and is questionable for camp.

Meanwhile coming off the school’s first losing season in 34 years, change is afoot and no one is guaranteed a starting job, according to Muschamp.

Florida’s coach refused to tab Driskel as UF’s No. 1 quarterback for 2014, saying, “Every job is open. When you go 4-8, it’s all open.”

“You are what your record is,” Muschamp continued. “I’m a 4-8 coach, and we’ve got a 4-8 ball club. We need to work hard to get better and improve in every facet.”

NINE NEW FACES ON CAMPUS

 UF officially announced nine early enrollees including five-star defensive back Jalen Tabor. The rest of the group includes TE DeAndre Goolsby, QB Will Grier, OL Kavaris Harkless, OL Nolan Kelleher, OL Drew Sarvary, RB Brandon Powell, DL Taven Bryan and DB Duke Dawson.

JOKER AN OC CANDIDATE? 

As first reported by the Austin American-Statesman, Florida wide receivers coach Joker Phillips is one of three finalists for Texas’ offensive coordinator position.

On Monday, UF’s offensive line coach Mike Summers -- who actually recruited Phillips to Kentucky in 1981 -- and offensive coordinator Kurt Roper both spoke glowingly of Phillips and acknowledged their strong ties to the assistant was a factor in their decision to come to Florida.

Musuchamp said he does not anticipate any more changes on his coaching staff. 

QUOTABLE 

“As far as an injury update, I’m not going go through everybody, but what I’m going to do is if I don’t say anything about them, that means they’re a full go for spring. And if I hit on guys — there’s different guys, and I’ve got multiple dates and we could be here all day if you want me to go through it.”

-- Muschamp, on Florida’s hampered roster.  

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Flipapalooza: Wild week on recruiting trail

GAINESVILLE -- Whew. Take a breath.

Florida’s 2014 class continues to have tons of movement, as the last week continued a whirlwind of upheavel (both good and bad) with two new commitments and a pair of (not-so-surprising) decommitments.

In the last prospect update, I wrote, “I'm sure it will be a crazy month. Stay tuned.”

I only shortchanged the chaos by three weeks.

The bad news first.

On Friday, five-star wideout Ermon Lane (Homestead) officially announced his decommitment from UF (via Twitter), following in the footsteps of his South Florida buddy, five-star tailback Dalvin Cook.

Screen shot 2014-01-12 at 11.28.40 PM

Screen shot 2014-01-12 at 11.28.53 PM

Lane -- like Cook -- Gator chomped for cameras throughout the week during the Under Armour All-American practices, but the talented receiver was actually considered a Florida State lean after word leaked he planned on taking an official visit to FSU in late January.

Also of note: Dalvin Cook is committed to the Seminoles.

The Gators also lost four-star cornerback Chris Lammons (Plantation High), who decommited Thursday, but not without a mega (pleasant) surprise earlier in the day.

Five-star cornerback Jalen Tabor, an early enrollee and the No. 24 ranked player nationally, flipped his commitment from Arizona to Florida. According to reports, Tabor is set to start classes in Gainesville on Monday.

The Gators continued their flipapalooza Friday, nabbing four-star tailback Brandon Powell (Deerfield Beach), who decommitted from Miami after receiving a UF offer Wednesday.

Powell, another early enrollee, is currently UF's lone running back pledge. 

Florida also inched closer to landing defensive tackle Thomas Holley. The four-star prospect, formally a longtime Penn State commit, reopened his recruitment following former PSU head coach Bill O’Brien’s departure to the NFL. Now, the Gators are the presumed favorites to land the Rivals100 defensive lineman.

Finally, 2015 cornerback Deontai Williams (Trinity Christian Academy) committed to Florida in a school ceremony Thursday. Williams is currently UF’s sole pledge for its 2015 class.

Y’all get all that?

In all, the early returns of 2014 have been rather profitable for UF. Since losing Cook on New Years Eve, the Gators have snagged the commitments of Tabor, Powell, Gerald Willis III and Kavaris Harkless, with more likely to come.

Whiffing on Cook and Lane definitely hurt Florida (a lot), but the Gators no longer appear destined for a sputtering finish.

As always, stay tuned.   

Kerfuffle complete: UF's 2014 class remains at 20 commitments.

PLAYER

POS.

HT.

WT.

SCHOOL

STARS

Duke Dawson

DB

5’11”

195

Dixie County

****

J.C. Jackson

DB

5’10”

175

Immokalee

****

Quincy Wilson

DB

6’2”

195

University Sch.

****

Justus Reed

DE

6’5”

235

Central Catholic

***

Khairi Clark

DT

6’2”

325

Chamindade

****

Dontae Angus

OL

6’6”

330

M L King (PA)

***

Tavern Bryan

OL

6’5”

250

Natrona (WY)

***

Nolan Kelleher

OL

6’6”

285

Wando (SC)

****

Travaris Dorsey

OL

6’3”

314

Raines

***

Gerald Willis

DE

6’4”

250

Edna Karr (LA)

****

Will Grier

QB

6’2”

177

Davidson Day (NC)

****

Kavaris Harkless

OL

6’5”

270

Trinity Christian

***

Brandon Powell

RB

5’9”

167

Deerfield Beach

****

C’yontai Lewis

TE

6’5”

212

Northridge (AL)

***

Deandre Goolsby

TE

6’4”

225

Derby (KS)

***

David Sharpe

OL

6’8”

275

Providence Sch.

****

Ryan Sousa

WR

6’0”

180

Lake Nona

***

Moral Stephens

TE

6’3”

205

Taylor County

****

Drew Sarvary

OL

6’7”

310

Tyler J.C. (TX)

***

Jalen Tabor

DB

6’1”

186

Friendship Academy (DC)

*****

UF’s early enrollees: Powell, Tabor, Sarvary, Bryan, Dawson, Goolsby, Grier, Kelleher and Harkless

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

January 10, 2014

HOOPS: M.A.S.H UNIT: Prather out; Wilbekin, Young hobbled for Arkansas

GAINESVILLE -- Senior forward Casey Prather, No. 10 Florida's leading scorer and one of the most improved players in the country, will miss Saturday's game at Arkansas (1 p.m., ESPN2) with a bruised knee.

Prather, averaging 17.1 points per game while shooting a league-high 63 percent from the field, banged his knee during UF's win over South Carolina on Wednesday and missed the last two days of practice with significant swelling.

011413-CBK-gators-casey-prather-LN-PI_20130114154358139_660_320(Courtesy msn.foxsports.com)

Florida feared potential structural damage to its star forward, but an MRI revealed only swelling.

"We actually thought maybe there had been some cartilage tear," coach Billy Donovan said Friday. "But his knee structure, all that stuff is fine but he is out tomorrow."

Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin, who sprained his right ankle late against USC, also missed practice this week but should play against the Razorbacks.

Donovan labeled Wilbekin's status as "questionable," before adding, "I would say he'll probably give it some kind of try. We'll see what we can get out of him, but I really don't know at this time."

Wilbekin is not expected to start. 

Meanwhile, senior center Patric Young is battling knee tendinitis, but said, "When the buzzer sounds I think I'll be ready to go."

Donovan wasn't so sure, calling Young "questionable" for Saturday's road game.

"He did not practice today, so I mean he's cleared to play but I don't know how much we'll actually be able to get out of him."

With Prather out and Wilbekin and Young hobbled, Florida's recently revived depth will be tested again.  

The Gators will square off against a Razorbacks team dominant at home -- winners of 25-straight at Bud Walton Arena -- with a new-look lineup, as freshman point guard Kasey Hill, sophomore swingman DeVon Walker and sophomore forward Dorian-Finney Smith possibly join the starting five.  

NOTE: Freshman forward Chris Walker, who continues to wait for clearance by the NCAA, was seen leaving the practice facility Friday but his status was not updated.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton 

January 09, 2014

HOOPS: Harris "realizes big mistake," seeks redemption

GAINESVILLE -- Redshirt junior center Damontre Harris, dismissed from the No. 10 Florida men's basketball team in late December, has been granted a second chance. 

Following Wednesday's 74-58 win over South Carolina, Gators coach Billy Donovan abruptly announced at the end of his postgame press conference that Harris, a 6-foot-10 transfer from USC, has re-enrolled at Florida in hopes of working his way back onto the team.

Donovan said Harris, who has yet to play a single game at Florida, contacted him via text message several times during the holidays, "realizing he'd made a big mistake."

"He wants to be here," Donovan said.

Harris was suspended indefinitely Nov. 1 for undisclosed violation(s) of team rules. On Dec. 21, the center was officially dismissed from the team and was contacted by various schools as a potential transfer prospect.

But the center had a change of heart and Donovan said Harris could resume practicing with the team sometime this spring.

Florida's coach was adamant Harris will not play at all this season.

"He wants to work his way back," Donovan said. "It's going to be similar to the Scottie Wilbekin situation. He has to meet lots of terms and conditions. Can he make it? I don't know, but if he does it will be a great comeback story."

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton 

January 08, 2014

HOOPS: Florida rolls past USC but loses Wilbekin late

GAINESVILLE -- No. 10 Florida throttled South Carolina 74-58 Wednesday night in its Southeastern Conference opener, but UF's record-trying 24th straight victory at home was overshadowed by injury as senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin exited the game late with a right ankle sprain. 

Wilbekin, recently challenged by coach Billy Donovan to be more efficient offensively, scored a game-high 17 points (on 3-of-6 shooting from 3-point range) with three assists and zero turnovers before landing awkwardly on a drive with 2:39 remaining in the second half. Florida's senior was immediately assisted to the locker room by head trainer Duke Werner, souring a bounce-back performance by the point guard. 

BdgYUE0CUAAnEX2(Courtesy @osgators)

Wilbekin, visibly in pain, rolled the same ankle he hurt late in UF's buzzer-beating loss to Connecticut on Dec. 2. 

After the game, Donovan called the senior "questionable" for Saturday's tilt at Arkansas (1 p.m., ESPN2) and explained that he had a substitution for Wilbekin waiting at the scorer's table as the injury occurred.

The Gators (12-2), winners of five straight over the Gamecocks (7-7), tied their homecourt winning streak set during UF's first title run in 2006-07. Florida's last lost in the O'Dome was in 2012 to eventual national champion Kentucky to close out the regular season.  

UF's performance Wednesday night was hardly dazzling, but thanks to an early suffocating defense (forcing 15 first half turnovers) and a transition attack (10 fast break points), the Gators jumped out to a 14-1 lead in the game's first six minutes. USC failed to score a field goal until the 10:32 mark in the first half, but the Gators -- a Jekyll and Hyde team all year -- had a lengthy lull of mediocre play on both ends of the court, allowing a undermanned USC team to hang around until early in the second half. 

Following Gamecocks guard Desmond Ringer's and-one layup to cut USC's deficit to eight (43-35), Florida regrouped with a pair of binge scoring runs -- 9-2, 12-0 -- to turn the two teams' first league game into a rout. 

Senior center Patric Young, who chipped in 13 points (6-for-7 from the floor) and seven rebounds, acknowledged after the game the Gators currently "lack a killer instinct" and relax too often against teams they're "better than on paper."

Donovan, admittedly "irritated" by the reoccurring "theme" of UF's tendency to allow other teams back into games, said, "We have a very, very hard time sustaining intensity."

At least on Wednesday night -- against an SEC bottom-feeder -- Florida's up-and-down effort was enough. 

THIS & THAT

UF led by as many as 23 points in the second half. … Casey Prather submitted another ho-hum performance, scoring 13 points without missing a shot from the field (5-of-5). … USC opened the second half shooting 7-of-10 after making just six field goals the entire first half. … UF was out-rebounded (28-25) for just the fourth time all season. … The Gators shot a paltry 26 percent from the 3-point line (5-of-19), as sophomore sharpshooter Michael Frazier struggled to find his touch (just 2-for-7 from downtown) all night.  

VIDEO

Donovan talks UF's win and Wilbekin's injury

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Orange & Blue Debut scheduled for April 12

GAINESVILLE -- Florida will host its annual Orange & Blue Debut one week later this spring, the school announced Wednesday. 

Screen shot 2014-01-08 at 10.53.21 AM

Screen shot 2014-01-08 at 10.53.31 AM

The Gators are pushing back practice to mid March, hoping quarterback Jeff Driskel's recovery from a broken right leg is complete.  

No word on whether UF will stage a traditional spring game or again opt for a practice-like format due to so many offensive staff changes and a plethora of players recovering from injuries. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

January 06, 2014

Gators hire Summers to lead offensive line

GAINESVILLE -- Florida no longer has any coaching vacancies.

The Gators completed their offensive overhaul, hiring Southern California offensive line coach Mike Summers to the same position, the school announced Monday.

811393(Courtesy foxsportswest.com)

"I'm excited to have Coach Summers join our staff," UF head coach Will Muschamp said in a statement. "He has 34 years of experience, has been an offensive coordinator for 15 years and has coached in the SEC. He has a diverse background and has experience in the NFL. He will be a great addition to our staff." 

Summers, 57, definitely brings a wealth of experience, with multiple stops in the SEC including a two-year stint at Kentucky (2010-12) working under former Wildcats head coach and current UF receivers assistant/recruiting coordinator Joker Phillips.

A graduate of UK, Summers was also a pivotal member of Bobby Petrino's staffs at Louisville, Arkansas and the Atlanta Falcons. Florida will serve as Summers' 11th stop in his lengthy coaching career.

"I'm honored to be joining Coach Muschamp and his staff," Summers said. "I have the utmost respect for Coach Muschamp, the staff and the support system in place. Having been in the SEC, I have always held the Florida program in high regard and I'm looking forward to getting right to work." 

Summers replaces Tim Davis, fired Dec. 1 after Florida’s offensive line surrendered a conference-high 66 sacks in two years despite operating in a run-oriented attack.

More on the hire to come… 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Powell goes pro

GAINESVILLE -- Former No. 1 overall recruit Ronald Powell opted to forgo his final year of eligibility at Florida and will enter the 2014 NFL Draft, the school announced Monday. 

"This hasn’t been an easy decision because this is a tough place to walk away from," Powell said in a release. "But really you never walk away from being a Gator. I never thought it would be this hard to make this decision -- most people think it’s easy -- go for the money. It’s hard to leave my brothers behind, but we’ve shared so much more than our time on the field. We’ve lived our lives together and we are truly a family. This place has so many memories that I will carry forever, and I will never forget my coaches, teammates, trainers, strength staff, professors and the entire support staff that helped me during my time here."

Powell(Courtesy Tim Casey | GatorCountry.com)

Powell -- Urban Meyer's premier recruit in UF's lauded 2010 class -- never reached fans' lofty expectations, as the athletic pass rushing linebacker/defensive end struggled with injuries, maturity and consistency during his time at Florida.

The redshirt junior, who tore his ACL twice in 2012 and missed the entire year, was frequently praised by coach Will Muschamp this past season for his improved attitude, leadership and overall development. 

“Ronald has informed me that he has made a decision to declare for the NFL Draft,” Muschamp said in the statement. “This hasn’t been an easy decision for him. I talked to him several times over the Holidays, but it was important for him to come back and look me in the eye and tell me what he wanted to do and why he wanted to do it. It’s one of the great experiences as a coach to watch young players mature. It’s been well documented the hardships he has had to overcome and he has always kept a positive attitude."

Powell, a tweaner who projects as a stand-up linebacker at the next level, finished the 2013 season with 26 tackles, eight hurries, four sacks and seven tackles for loss as he constantly shifted between linebacker and end.

Powell was close to teammate Dominique Easley, a fellow 2010 hotshot prospect, who did not leave early last season and returned in 2013 only to tear his ACL before the fourth game of the year.  With two major surgeries already, a third knee injury could derail Powell’s career and likely influenced his decision to turn pro. 

“I want to thank the entire Gator Nation for making a kid from California a part of their family,” Powell said. “It’s hard to put into words what this whole experience has been for me. I’ve had so many opportunities and met so many people. All of them have been supportive and helpful in my time here. Because of that, I’ve had a chance to grow and mature into the man I am today and the man I am going to become in the future. …  

"I wouldn’t trade anything I’ve experienced because they have all helped me grow. I will miss running out of the tunnel into The Swamp and all of the tradition and great rivalries. It has been an honor to be a part of Gator history and I will always represent The Gator Nation and bleed Orange and Blue. Thanks again to everyone and much love for The Gator Nation. Once a Gator, Always a Gator! Go Gators!”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Where Things Stand: One Month to NSD

GAINESVILLE -- With all the high school showcases, all star games and combines complete, Florida looks to make a final surge on the recruiting circuit one month until National Signing Day. 

UF's 2014 class currently stands at 20 commitments -- with several recent additions plus one marquee decommitment. 

PLAYER

POS.

HT.

WT.

SCHOOL

STARS

Duke Dawson

DB

5’11”

195

Dixie County

****

J.C. Jackson

DB

5’10”

175

Immokalee

****

Chris Lammons

DB

5’9”

168

Plantation

****

Quincy Wilson

DB

6’2”

195

University Sch.

****

Justus Reed

DE

6’5”

235

Central Catholic

***

Khairi Clark

DT

6’2”

325

Chamindade

****

Dontae Angus

OL

6’6”

330

M L King (PA)

***

Tavern Bryan

OL

6’5”

250

Natrona (WY)

***

Nolan Kelleher

OL

6’6”

285

Wando (SC)

****

Travaris Dorsey

OL

6’3”

314

Raines

***

Gerald Willis

DE

6’4”

250

Edna Karr (LA)

****

Joseph Paul

OL

6’4”

340

St. Augustine (LA)

***

Will Grier

QB

6’2”

177

Davidson Day (NC)

****

Kavaris Harkless

OL

6’5”

270

Trinity Christian

***

C’yontai Lewis

TE

6’5”

212

Northridge (AL)

***

Deandre Goolsby

TE

6’4”

225

Derby (KS)

***

David Sharpe

OL

6’8”

275

Providence Sch.

****

Ryan Sousa

WR

6’0”

180

Lake Nona

***

Moral Stephens

TE

6’3”

205

Taylor County

****

Drew Sarvary

OL

6’7”

310

Tyler J.C. (TX)

***

Four-star tailback Dalvin Cook is (obviously) no longer listed on UF's board, as the electric Miami Central running back flipped to rival Florida State in a bizarrely presented "announcement" on ESPNU last Tuesday evening. Despite Gator chomping for cameras and fans during the Under Armour All-American practices all week, Cook finally decommited after months of rampant speculation. 

Cook's flip was a major blow to coach Will Muschamp's class, and the residual effects are likely to be felt for the next month. Cook's decommitment may result in a series of dominos damaging to UF's class. Ermon Lane (WR) and J.C. Jackson (CB/WR), two highly rated prospects close to Cook, are rumored to be a package deal and positioned to follow the playmaking tailback to FSU. While they currently remain pledged to UF, most recruiting experts do not expect either to maintain their verbal commitments.   

In lieu of Cook's flip, the Gators immediately turned their attention to Rivals100 tailback Jeff Jones, MVP of the Under Armour showcase. Jones, a Minneapolis native and talented running back, is currently committed to Minnesota but will take an official visit to UF on Jan. 24. 

The Under Armour game also delivered a surprise commitment for the Gators, as Florida poached four-star defensive end Gerald Willis III (Edna Karr, New Orleans) from LSU's backyard. The Gators also added another offensive line prospect, flipping three star tackle Kavaris Harkless from Louisville after former head coach Charlie Strong accepted the same position at Texas. 

Harkless, an early enrollee from Jacksonville's Trinity Christian, was actually already in Louisville to enroll before hearing the news of Strong's departure. According to Rivals, Harkless turned around and went home and is set to enroll at UF immediately. 

Harkless is one of seven early enrollees scheduled to report to campus this week. 

As for the rest of Florida's class, its remaining targets include Jones, four-star wideout Isaiah McKenzie, five-star cornerback Adoree' Jackson, five-star linebacker/defensive end Lorenzo Carter, four-star defensive tackle Thomas Holley and a couple others. 

I'm sure it will be a wild month.

Stay tuned.   

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

January 04, 2014

HOOPS: Gators sneak past Spiders

GAINESVILLE -- No. 12 Florida survived a scare against a pesky Atlantic 10 team, sneaking past Richmond 67-58 at the O'Connell Center on Saturday afternoon. 

The Gators (11-2) extended their home-winning streak to 23 games -- the third-longest streak in the nation and one victory away from a school-record -- to close out its brutal non-conference slate. 

Florida struggled through a sloppy and disinterested first 30 minutes before exploding on a 12-0 run to ultimately seal the win. 

Following 12 lead changes -- 10 in a topsy-turvy second half -- the Gators held shifty point guard Cedrick Lindsay (game-high 19 points) and the rest of the Spiders (10-5) scoreless for over a three minute period late, while seniors Patric Young and Casey Prather took over offensively. 

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Young scored 15 points -- on an efficient 6-of-8 from the field -- and chipped in six rebounds and two assists. 

UF's senior center sparked a listless group after receiving a foul call during a contested offensive rebound midway through the second half. Young screamed multiple audible expletives in jubilation, energizing the sleepwalking Gators and a quiet O'Dome. 

Sophomore sniper Michael Frazier, who finished with a team-high 18 points, immediately drilled consecutive three-pointers to kickstart UF's rally. 

"I didn't think we had any leadership in the first half from our seniors," UF coach Billy Donovan said. "We looked pouty, moody, inconvenienced, not focused. … It got much better in the second half. We battled."

Florida shot a lowly 26 percent from downtown (5-for-19), but Frazier (3-of-7 from the 3-point line) connected on three key second half treys to shift the game's momentum. 

"Every time Mike Frazier shoots the ball we think it's going in," Young said. 

Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin labored through an ugly first half -- 1-of-9 shooting, two fouls, just one assist -- before chipping in a solid second period as Florida finally discovered some offensive rhythm.

"I put a lot on Scottie's plate," said Donovan, who challenged Wilbekin in front of the team at halftime for playing too much 1-on-1 ball. "I don't think we're selfish at all," Donovan continued, but "we'd be great on a horse track."

While Florida's peripheral passing vision waxed and waned, the Gators grinded out a win by mauling the Spiders on the glass (44-22 advantage), dominating the paint (38-20 advantage) and controlling the tempo late. 

UF capped an impressive non-conference schedule that included wins over Memphis, Kansas, Florida State, Fresno State and Middle Tennessee State. 

"We aren't going to see anything in our leage that we haven't see up to this point in time," Donovan said. 

THIS & THAT

UF again struggled at the charity stripe, shooting just 53 percent (10-of-19). The Gators allowed the Spiders to hang around by closing the game just 2-for-8 at the line. … Dorian Finney-Smith grabbed 13 rebounds. … Eight different Gators scored at least three points, with four players -- Frazier, Wilbekin, Young and Prather -- in double-digits. … Florida hosts South Carolina on Wednesday to kickoff SEC play. 

VIDEOS: Donovan talks UF's win and the team's impressive non-conference record, while Frazier dishes on his back-to-back 3-pointers.  

 

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

January 03, 2014

Roberson bolts for NFL

GAINESVILLE -- Junior cornerback Marcus Roberson became Florida's third underclassmen -- and second cornerback -- this offseason to declare for April's NFL Draft, the school announced Friday. 

Theadvocate(courtesy theadvocate.com)

Roberson, an All-SEC standout in 2012, played in just seven games this season, battling knee and ankle injuries and recording just three pass breakups. The Fort Lauderdale native was also suspended for the South Carolina game, but the 6-foot-1, 190-pound cornerback opted to forgo his senior year after receiving a favorable grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Board. 

Despite an enigmatic junior campaign, ESPN's Scouts Inc. tabs Roberson as the fourth-best draft-eligible cornerback and the No. 26 player overall. Although durability issues are a concern, Roberson projects as a late-first to mid-second round pick due to his size, physicality and ball-skills. 

“I’m very thankful of everyone at Florida that helped me to get to this point in my career," Roberson said in a release. "From Tony Meacham, my academic adviser, to Jeff Dillman to Coach [Will] Muschamp and the entire coaching staff. It’s been a great experience here and now that it is over I can truly appreciate everything that is in place here for players to be successful and have an opportunity to play at the next level.”

Roberson is the sixth player -- and third defensive back -- to leave early for the NFL under Muschamp since 2011. 

“Marcus has informed me that he has made the decision to pursue his dream of playing in the NFL,” Muschamp said in a statement. “Marcus was part of our first recruiting class and it was a pleasure watching him mature and develop both on and off the field during his time here. I look forward to watching him play on Sundays and, like all of our players, I encourage them to return to complete his degree.”

With Roberson and tag-team cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy leaving early for the NFL, Florida is left with just three returning (scholarship) cornerbacks -- Vernon Hargreaves III, Brian Poole and Nick Washington. Senior safety Cody Riggs, formally a corner, could transition back to his old position this spring. Meanwhile, UF currently has four verbal commitments from cornerback prospects in its 2014 class and is among the favorites to land five-star athlete Adoree' Jackson, the nation's No. 6 overall recruit. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 30, 2013

Tebow joins ESPN

GAINESVILLE -- Tim Tebow has found his next football job -- as an analyst for ESPN. 

The former Florida Gators star quarterback signed a three-year contract to become a commentator for the SEC Network -- which launches in August 2014 -- the network announced Monday.  

Gossipextra.com(courtesygossipextra.com)

The 2007 Heisman Trophy winner and two-time national champion will make his ESPN debut during ample pregame coverage of the BCS National Championship Game Jan. 6. 

According to ESPN, Tebow's contract will "not preclude him from continuing to pursue playing opportunities in the NFL."

NFL Network reporter Ian Rapoprt added...

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“When I was six years old I fell in love with the game of football, and while I continue to pursue my dream of playing quarterback in the NFL, this is an amazing opportunity to be part of the unparalleled passion of college football and the SEC," Tebow said in a statement released by ESPN. 

Tebow, who was cut by the New England Patriots in August and did not play in the league in 2013, will serve a variety of roles for ESPN, but the former "SEC icon" will mainly appear on the new network's SEC Nation -- the conference's version of GameDay (a traveling pregame show) -- alongside host Joe Tessitore and commentator Paul Finebaum. 

“Tim is a SEC icon with a national fan base and broad appeal," ESPN senior vice president Justin Connolly said in the news release. "He brings a wealth of knowledge about the game, the conference and the passion among SEC fans.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 26, 2013

A straightforward blueprint: Roper explains offensive philosophy

GAINESVILLE -- Florida tabbed Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper as the man to revive UF’s anemic attack Thursday. 

Florida’s stagnant offense morphed into a national punching bag this fall, as the Gators stumbled to their worst record -- and first losing season -- since Jimmy Carter was president. 

During his introductory teleconference, Roper -- who remains with the Blue Devils through their Chick-Fil-A Bowl game against Texas A&M (Dec. 31) -- openly acknowledged he knows very little about Florida’s personnel and has no preconceived notions or predetermined offensive scheme.

But unlike his predecessors, Roper seems intent on evaluating UF’s talent first and then building a blueprint that best suits his players.   

Good start. 

While ESPN.com reported the Gators would transition to an “up-tempo spread offense,” Roper laid out a straightforward offensive philosophy not pigeonholed to any set system:

“It's very simple, but it's the truth of the matter. Our whole philosophy is five points: We want to get 11 people on the field. We want to get them lined up. We want to get them set with motion. We want to snap the ball before the playclock runs out, and we want the ball at the end of the play. And those things are what we will coach. Coaching is not plays or formations or this; it's how to make decisions and how to play the game with effort and those types of things. We've got to go in and find out who are the playmakers with the ball and what our players of capable of doing up front and what we're capable of doing at the quarterback position." 

Admittedly, the K.I.S.S. philosophy sounds awful familiar, but the idea of tailoring a system that best suits your players is a totally different tune. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Official: Gators hire Roper

GAINESVILLE -- Christmas officially came a day late for Gators fans.

Florida announced the hiring of Duke offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Kurt Roper to the same positions on its staff Thursday -- two days after ESPN.com first reported the news on Christmas Eve.

Duke-roper_zps7fe9bc82(courtesy www.onlygators.com)

"I'm excited to have Coach Roper join our staff," UF head coach Will Muschamp said in a news release.

"He has a diverse, up-tempo background on offense and does a good job of adapting to what the players do best. The most important thing though, is he has always remained balanced. He has had success calling plays in the SEC and has tutored three NFL quarterbacks. He has had players produce at every offensive position and he is one of the most well-respected coaches in the country."

Roper, an 18-year coaching veteran and the Blue Devils offensive coordinator since 2008, is tasked with resurrecting a Florida offense ranked in the bottom-20 nationally for three consecutive seasons. Known as a quarterbacks guru, Roper is also charged with developing Jeff Driskel and five-star freshman signee Will Grier. Roper will serve as Florida's third offensive coordinator in four seasons under Muschamp. 

“The expectations are high,” Roper awknowledged Thursday. “And they should be. They've won a lot of games at Florida and won a lot of championships at Florida.”

Roper will remain with the Blue Devils through Tuesday’s (New Years Eve) Chick-Fil-A Bowl game against Texas A&M.

While immediate details of Roper’s contract were not released, The Gainesville Sun reported he will make $600,000 annually.

Muschamp interviewed Roper for nearly seven hours Monday in Gainesville after receiving clearance from Duke head coach David Cutcliffe.

A longtime Lieutenant of Cutcliffe, Roper was named a finalist for the Broyles Coaching Award as the nation’s top assistant this season.

Cutcliffe was very complimentary of Roper, calling him “an intense coach” and “the total package.”

“I’ve known Kurt most of his adult life,” Cutcliffe said. “I’m very appreciative of all of his contributions whether it was at Tennessee, at Ole Miss and certainly here at Duke through the years. It’s been an enjoyable professional relationship and certainly a friendship.”

While not as ballyhooed as other prospective (and rumored) candidates, Roper is a highly regarded assistant recognized as a flexible offensive mind willing to run multiple systems to adjust to personnel.

Roper won’t hit the recruiting trail for UF until he’s settled in Gainesville next week, and admitted he was rather unfamiliar with Florida’s team.

“I know Driskel’s the quarterback and don’t know much beyond that,” he said, chuckling.

In 2013, Duke’s attack ranked No. 69 nationally in total offense (408.1 y/g) and averaged 31.6 points per game. The Blue Devils scored over 20 points 10 times in 2013. Under Brent Pease -- UF’s embattled offensive coordinator fired three weeks ago -- the Gators tallied 20-plus points just 13 times in two seasons.

“The biggest thing is you got to find out the strengths of your quarterback and the strengths of your offensive line,” said Roper on his philosophy. “Once you find those strengths then you can start putting together what you're going to start hanging your hat on offensively. … We want to play fast but we want to play smart and take care of the football.”

Roper has extensive experience in the Southeastern Conference and coached against Muschamp (while at LSU) three times as the playcaller at Ole Miss. He started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Tennessee (1996-98), first connecting with Cutcliffe.

Roper then followed Cutcliffe to Ole Miss for six seasons, serving as the quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator where he tutored Eli Manning. After brief stops at Kentucky (quarterbacks coach, 2005) and Tennessee (running backs coach, 2006-07), Roper piloted a Duke offense that produced two 1,000-yard receivers in the same season (2012) and two 3,000-yard passers (Sean Renfree,Thad Lewis).

“Coach Muschamp is really excited about the future [at UF]. He's excited about the talent level that he has there. I think he's excited about the opportunities that Florida has to compete for championships,” Roper said. “I don't have any limitations or any preconceived thoughts going in. I'm going down there to coach to the best of my ability and try to win games and win championships."

 Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 23, 2013

Back to the well: Roper hired as Gators OC?

GAINESVILLE -- The last time Florida poached an offensive coach from Duke it worked out quite well.

Could it happen again?

********** UPDATE NO. 2 **********

Well about a lengthy wait...

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I was told there is unlikely to be an official announcement during the holidays but that "could change."

********** UPDATE **********

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While I don't know the validity of others' sources, this much is definitely true: Muschamp knows he must hit a home run with this hire. Patience and prudence are key, as Muschamp's future at Florida rests on the success of UF's next OC. Other factors are in play here too. Many candidates are presumably off the board after receiving raises, extensions or head coaching jobs, while others may not be cleared to interview until after their school's bowl game. Same goes for potential NFL suitors. ...

...According to CoachingSearch.com and Flight Finder, Gators head coach Will Muschamp interviewed Blue Devils offensive coordinator Kurt Roper for the same position Monday. Screen shot 2013-12-23 at 11.35.16 AM

According to the travel history on the University Athletic Association's private plane, the UAA jet left the Gainesville Regional airport at 4:30 a.m., arriving in Raleigh, NC shortly before 6 a.m. The plane quickly departed Raleigh-Durham International and arrived back in Gainesville just after 8 a.m. 

Duke's attack ranked No. 69 nationally in total offense (408.1 y/g) and Roper was named a finalist for the Broyles Coaching Award as the nation's top assistant.

Roper has been a longtime offensive Lieutenant of Blue Devils head coach David Cutcliffe. He has extensive experience in the Southeastern Conference, starting his career as a graduate assistant at Tennessee (1996-98), working as the quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator at Ole Miss (1999-04) and serving as Kentucky's quarterbacks coach for a lone season (2005). 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 21, 2013

HOOPS: Harris dismissed

GAINESVILLE -- After weeks of innuendo, Damontre Harris was officially dismissed from the Florida basketball team Saturday morning.

The 6-foot-10, 228-pound South Carolina transfer never played a game in a Gators uniform.

Harris, who sat out the 2012-13 season after leaving Columbia, was suspended indefinitely for an undisclosed violation of team rules at the start of the 2013-14 campaign.

Os-pictures-2013-uf-mens-basketball-media-day--026(Courtesy orlandosentinel.com)

Coach Billy Donovan publicly expressed his disappointment in the troubled center for weeks and just five days ago acknowledged Harris was unlikely to ever play at Florida.

On Saturday morning, Harris’ fate was officially sealed.

“He was never disrespectful as far as his attitude,” Donovan said in a statement. “He was a nice kid and never blamed anybody for what was happening. We tried to help him off the court and help him with some of the challenges he was dealing with, but there was never this reciprocation of wanting to be helped, or wanting to do the things necessary.”

Harris, who was expected to be a rotational frontcourt piece this year, was injured (hamstring) at the start of training camp and his role with the team quickly unraveled. Already suspended in the preseason, the center stopped showing up to the practice facility for treatment and rehab. Last month, Donovan announced Harris never practiced with the team since the season started.

“I think he realizes that a big opportunity for him is now gone,” Donovan told the school website Saturday. “The thing I tried to get across to him, if he has any aspirations of playing professional basketball there is not one team in this country or overseas that is going to tolerate this type of behavior, and I’d be doing him a disservice if I didn’t hold him accountable for these things.”

Harris, who did complete the fall semester in good academic standing, is permitted to transfer to any school without restrictions. 

No. 16 Florida (8-2) faces Fresno State (6-5) today at 4:30 p.m. (Sun Network) in Sunrise at the Orange Bowl Classic. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 20, 2013

Gators hire special teams coach, fill administrative vacancy

GAINESVILLE -- The Gator Nation is impatiently wishing for a shiny new offensive coordinator this holiday season, but Christmas is still five days away.

Instead, UF officially announced the hiring of Coleman Hutzler, formally at New Mexico, as its new special teams coordinator -- a position not known to be vacant until late Thursday evening.

Jeff Choate, UF’s outside linebackers coach and special teams coordinator in 2013, resigned to “pursue other coaching opportunities" according to a release by the school. 

“Coleman is a young coach with a very bright future,” coach Will Muschamp said in a statement. “He has a great work ethic and obviously is very familiar with our special teams’ schemes. It will be a seamless transition for our players.”

Hutzler, just 29, is a familiar face in Gainesville, serving on UF’s staff from 2010-11 as a defensive and special teams assistant alongside current defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin.

Durkin and Hutzler, who has been on the Lobos staff since 2012, also worked together at Stanford (2007-2009) under coach Jim Harbaugh.

“I’m excited to be returning to Gainesville and be a part of the Gator family again,” Hutzler said in a news release. “I enjoyed my time there and have the utmost respect for Coach Muschamp and the administrative team in place at Florida. I understand the value placed on special teams under Coach Muschamp, and look forward to getting to work.”

Hutzler piloted a strong special teams group in 2013, as New Mexico ranked in the top 25 nationally in net punting (No. 25), punt-return defense (No. 19) and kickoff returns (No. 24). The Lobos also had the country’s only player (sophomore Carlos Wiggins) to return three kickoffs for touchdowns.

UF’s special teams struggled under Choate last season, marred by inconsistencies in the kicking game.

Kyle Christy went from All-American punter to the pine, while the Gators missed 10 field goals -- second most nationally. Although UF’s coverage units were strong, the Gators blocked just a single kick all season after blocking at least four kicks every year since 2010.

Choate, who was scheduled to make $290,000 in the final year of his contract, will move onto his fifth job in 24 months after coming to UF on the strong recommendation by former offensive coordinator Brent Pease.

According to FootballScoop.com, he is reportedly looking for a job at Washington under new Huskies coach Chris Peterson, where Pease recently signed on to coach wide receivers.

Choate worked under Peterson at Boise State from 2006-11.

ANOTHER VACANCY FILLED

Muschamp also announced the hiring of Drew Hughes as Florida’s director of player personnel.

The administrative position has been vacant since Jon Haskins resigned during the 2013 season.

Hughes held the same title at North Carolina State in 2012.

“Drew will be a great asset to our program,” Muschamp said. “He is extremely organized, and based on his experience he has a very good understanding of how we operate and should fit right in.”

Hughes joined NC State one year after serving as Central Florida’s director of player personnel. He also spent five seasons at Alabama (2007-11) working in the recruiting office under Ed Marynowitz, now the assistant director of pro scouting for the Philadelphia Eagles.

“I’m very excited to have the opportunity to work for Coach Muschamp and the University of Florida,” Hughes said. “It will be great to get back to the state of Florida and the SEC – the best conference in the nation. I’m very much looking forward to helping the Florida coaching staff attract student athletes who will be champions both on and off the field.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 19, 2013

Welcome to Jerry World: Gators set to play in 2017 Cowboys Classic

GAINESVILLE -- For the first time since George H.W. Bush was President, the Gators will play a non-conference game outside the state of Florida.  

UF will kickoff its 2017 football season in primetime against Michigan at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, the school announced Thursday.

The Cowboys Classic is scheduled for Sept. 2.

“You don't get these opportunities very often,”' UF athletic director Jeremy Foley said. “Our schedule has been pretty consistent through the years. We were presented this opportunity and just thought it was something that our fans would embrace, our program would embrace.”

The Big Ten-SEC matchup will be the Gators' first non-conference game outside the state of Florida since losing at Syracuse (38-21) in 1991, but Foley called the marquee non-conference game "the exception, not the rule." 

"I think when you are presented with unique opportunities you need to look at it for your fans' sake, for your program's sake,'' he said. "It's something we will not do on a consistent basis because we like playing seven home games. Seven home games are obviously important to our program, important to the city of Gainesville. It will be very much the exception, not the rule, but to sit here and totally close the door on these opportunities just doesn't make sense." 

UF and Michigan have met twice -- 2003 Outback Bowl, 2008 Capital One Bowl -- both wins by the Wolverines. 

Each school will receive 25,000 tickets for the neutral-site game. According to the Michigan release, Florida will serve as the home team, while the officials will come from the Big 12 conference. 

According to David Jones of The Florida Today, the Gators will receive a $6 million payout for participating in the Cowboys Classic.  

AT&T Stadium, originally Cowboys Stadium, opened in 2009 and hosted Super Bowl XLV. The $1.2 billion stadium can seat over 100,000 (with expanded standing-room only tickets) and is scheudled to host the 2014 NCAA Men's Final Four and the first college football national championship under the new playoff format in 2015.

“This is a great opportunity to expose the University of Florida nationally, playing one of the greatest programs in the history of college football, I think a tremendous trip for our fans,” Foley said. “We just haven't done much of this, certainly as long as I've been athletic director. I think there are a lot of positives that come out of it.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 18, 2013

HOOPS: Murphy x 2

GAINESVILLE -- Alex Murphy wants to continue the family tradition.

After his older brother, Erik, developed into an All-SEC power forward with the Gators, Murphy, a 6-foot-9, 230-pound combo-forward, decided to transfer to Florida following two-plus seasons at Duke.

***** UPDATE *****

Florida officially confirmed Murphy's transfer late Thursday afternoon. 

"We're excited about having Alex join our team," coach Billy Donovan said. "We obviously know his family well and look forward to having Alex here."

The redshirt sophomore will enroll at UF in January and become eligible to play next December baring a hardship wavier.

“At the end of the day, it was just my comfort level with the program and coaches,” Murphy told The Gainesville Sun. “It was a gut feeling. It was where I wanted to be.”

Murphy chose UF over Rhode Island, Providence and Northeastern.

He announced his decision on Twitter.

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 Erik, a rookie on the Chicago Bulls who starred on UF's three straight Elite Eight teams, tweeted out his support too.

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Murphy was a highly rated recruit in the 2011 Class (four-star, No. 45 overall), but the stretch-four struggled to break into coach Mike Krzyzewski’s rotation. While Murphy must earn his stripes at UF, the forward could play a key role in Florida’s frontcourt next season. The Gators graduate three seniors -- Patric Young, Will Yeguete, Casey Prather -- while South Carolina transfer Damontre Harris is unlikely to ever suit up at UF and freshman Chris Walker and sophomore Dorian-Finney Smith could leave early for the NBA.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton 

December 17, 2013

HOOPS: Donovan Unplugged

GAINESVILLE -- No. 16 Florida (7-2) plays No. 15 Memphis (7-1) at Madison Square Garden in New York City tonight (9 p.m., ESPN) in the nightcap of the Jimmy V Classic.

For UF coach Billy Donovan -- born and raised in Long Island -- it’s another special trip to New York.

Donovan competed at MSG as the point guard for Providence in the Big East tournament during the mid-1980's, and he also played his lone season in the NBA with his beloved hometown Knicks.

Bleacherreport.net(Courtesy bleacherreport.net)

Monday, Donovan dished on his favorite memories inside the historic arena, his brief relationship with Jim Valvano, the famous ESPY speech and more.

On the Jimmy V Foundation…

 “I think in some way or another all of us here have been affected by cancer one way or another.  Whether it’s a family member, a friend, someone close to us has been affected by cancer. I think the fact they have done the V Foundation an enormous job raising money for cancer research. And the money is going to cancer research. I think being involved with Dick Vitale in Sarasota for that event every year to raise money, their main fundraiser in May. I’ve had a chance to go down there several years to be part of that. I knew [Valvano] a little bit. I knew him a little bit, obviously being from New York. He coached at Iona. … It wasn’t like this close relationship, but I obviously knew him. I think right when I got into coaching was right about the time when he started to move into the booth and he was doing ESPN stuff.”

On Valvano’s speech…

“It was very, very powerful and moving. …It’s really, really very motivational. I think a lot of times in a lot of things when you’re at that point in time where you realize that that part of your life is going to be terminal, the cancer part is going to be terminal. I think probably a totally different perspective on what’s really valuable and important in life. I think when he talked about laughing, crying and thinking, those are probably three good things that all of us probably need to do every single day emotionally.”

On special memories inside Madison Square Garden… 

“I was a kid that being in elementary school, high school, would jump on the Long Island Railroad and go into Penn Station and go buy a $5 ticket in the rafters. … It’s definitely special. There’s just something special about it to me. And I think for some of our guys, they really don’t understand that part of it. A guy like Casey Prather has never been to New York. There’s guys on our team that have never been to New York City.”

On dreaming about playing for the Knicks…

 “It was a great story I told somebody. When I was like in fifth or sixth grade, they used to have this sporting goods store. They had these shirts that had a picture of an NBA player. It was a mug shot and like an action shot. And growing up, I loved the Knicks and I loved Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe. I loved those backcourt guys. My mother took me down to get one of these shirts, a big thing back then. And I think I got a picture, the shirt of Walt Frazier. I said to my mother do you still think Walt Frazier will be playing when I make it to the Knicks. You know, so you think about how crazy it is to just say that and actually have the opportunity to do that.”

More on MSG…

“I can remember going into Madison Square Garden for the ECAC Holiday Festival when St. Johns would play. I can still remember to this day vividly going into a doubleheader and watching Mark Aguirre as a sophomore playing for DePaul, and DePaul was ranked No. 1 in the country. I remember watching Louisville in the Garden when they had Darrell Griffith and that team that won the (1980) national championship. I remember watching Wichita State with Antoine Carr and Aubrey Sherrod and those guys. So there were some great things. Basketball back then was really, really good. St. Johns was great at that time. Just seeing the inception of the Big East and the Big East Tournament and all those things. That’s kind of what I grew up around and in the game of basketball. The one mainstay of all that, the Big East, the Knicks and everything was Madison Square Garden. That was the one place I think you always dreamed about playing in.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton 

December 16, 2013

HOOPS: Walker "not a savior," Harris likely done at UF

GAINESVILLE -- Five-star freshman Chris Walker -- a 6-foot-10 athletic power forward -- is expected to boost No. 16 Florida with his shotblocking, rim-rattling and rebounding skills, but coach Billy Donovan immediately tempered all expectations for the McDonald’s All-American on Monday.

“He is going to find out just how far behind he really is,” Donovan said. “I think there is obviously a lot of attention with him coming into school, but I think the one thing that people have got to realize is the fact that he is going to come in here and totally change our team, that is the furthest thing from the truth. He's got such a long way to go and it's not his fault.”

Walker, who missed the fall semester, joined the Gators on Saturday after compelling the necessary requirements to gain academic eligibility, but the freshman forward has only practiced with the team as he awaits the final decision by the NCAA Clearinghouse.

Walker will not play -- or even travel -- when UF takes on No. 15 Memphis at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night (9 p.m., ESPN) in New York City.  

Donovan said Walker’s final eligibility is “totally out of our hands,” placing no timetable on when he anticipates Walker seeing the floor.

“It's just going to be a process for him and I just hope he doesn't get frustrated,” Donovan explained. “I hope people realize he's not going to be the savior and all of a sudden like he doesn't just change our team. I'm just happy to have a body, happy that he's able to participate. I'm happy for him more than anything else.''

FATE SEALED

Donovan has publicly expressed his frustrations with former South Carolina transfer Damontre Harris, who remains suspended indefinitely due to undisclosed violations. 

On Monday, Florida’s coach took his disappointment in the 6-foot-11, 228-pound center a step further.

Harris is unlikely to ever play for the Gators.

“Nothing changed at all,” Donovan said.

“He has shown no signs of wanting to do the things necessary to come back. I really don’t know what his plans would be or where he’ll go, but right now I don’t ever anticipate him playing here at Florida.”

WILBEKIN HONORED

Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin was named the Southeastern Conference Player of the Week after tallying a career-high 18 points along with six assists and four steals in UF’s 67-61 win over Kansas. 

VIDEO: Senior forward Will Yeguete talks NYC, Walker, the Tigers and more. 

 

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December 15, 2013

Murphy bolts UF

GAINESVILLE -- Quarterback Tyler Murphy decided four years at Florida was enough. After graduating with a degree in telecommunications on Saturday, the redshirt junior signal caller asked for his release Sunday afternoon. 

The school confirmed midweek rumors of an impending transfer in a short statement on Twitter.

Screen shot 2013-12-15 at 6.31.48 PM

Murphy, immediately eligible, will not have to sit out the 2014 season and becomes an attractive "free agent" for schools seeking a one-year plug-in at quarterback.  

Reportedly, Murphy exited UF in a rather unscrupulous manner, but the quarterback was a noble solider for four years. Murphy represented UF with dignity and grace during the team's most trying season in over 30 years.   

Murphy, who was repeatedly passed over in UF's yearly quarterback carousel, started six games in 2013, forced into action after starter Jeff Driskel broke his leg against Tennessee (Sep. 21). Murphy rallied the Gators against the Volunteers and won his first two career starts (Kentucky, Arkansas), becoming an instant sensation in Gainesville.  

Sportsillustrated(Courtesy SportsIllustrated.com)

But after seriously injuring his shoulder in a loss at LSU (Oct. 12), the duel-threat quarterback's performance was never the same. Murphy, who missed the final three games of the season with an AC shoulder sprain, tossed three interceptions in UF's humiliating homecoming defeat to Vanderbilt.

He finished the season with 1,216 yards, six touchdowns and five interceptions. 

Murphy is the seventh player to leave the program this week. Quarterback depth is now a serious concern for coach Will Muschamp, as Florida has just three scholarship quarterbacks -- Driskel, sophomore Skyler Morhinweg and incoming freshman Will Grier -- on the projected roster for the 2014 season.  

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December 14, 2013

Recruiting updates: Sharpe, Stephens & Cook

GAINESVILLE -- Despite the lack of an offensive coordinator, Florida coach Will Muschamp has done work on the recruiting trail this week.

The Gators landed a pair of highly-touted 2014 offensive prospects they hope can infuse an inept attack immediately. 

On Thursday, four-star offensive tackle David Sharpe (Providence High School) and four-star wide receiver Moral Stephens (Perry Taylor County) verbally committed to UF.

Sharpe, UF’s top tackle target, pledged his commitment in a ceremony, while Stephens, recruited to Florida as a tight end, announced his decision on social media.

Screen shot 2013-12-14 at 11.59.35 AM

Screen shot 2013-12-14 at 12.01.12 PMMeanwhile, four-star tailback Dalvin Cook -- UF’s most important prospect after quarterback Will Grier -- told the media Saturday he is “100% committed to Florida until the Under Armour Game.”

Cook, who scored four touchdowns in Miami Central’s third straight 6A state championship in Orlando, told a crowd of reporters he is “shutting down his recruiting process” and will announce his final decision on Jan. 2.

Most analysts believe Cook will choose between Florida, Florida State and Miami.

Prospects cannot sign their national letters of intent until Feb 5. After cleaning house Thursday with six transfers, the Gators now have an additional four scholarships available following Sharpe and Stephens’ commitments.

With 18 commits, Florida sits at No. 9 in Rivals’ 2014 team recruiting rankings. 

Here is UF’s current 2014 class (all rankings according to Rivals.com)

PLAYER

POS.

HT.

WT.

SCHOOL

STARS

Duke Dawson

DB

5’11”

195

Dixie County

****

J.C. Jackson

DB

5’10”

175

Immokalee

****

Chris Lammons

DB

5’9”

168

Plantation

****

Quincy Wilson

DB

6’2”

195

University Sch.

****

Justus Reed

DE

6’5”

235

Central Catholic

***

Khairi Clark

DT

6’2”

325

Chamindade

****

Dontae Angus

OL

6’6”

330

M L King (PA)

***

Tavern Bryan

OL

6’5”

250

Natrona (WY)

***

Nolan Kelleher

OL

6’6”

285

Wando (SC)

****

Travaris Dorsey

OL

6’3”

314

Raines

***

Tavern Bryan

OL

6’5”

250

Natrona (WY)

***

Joseph Paul

OL

6’4”

340

St. Augustine (LA)

***

Will Grier

QB

6’2”

177

Davidson Day (NC)

****

Dalvin Cook

RB

5’11”

192

Miami Central

****

C’yontai Lewis

TE

6’5”

212

Northridge (AL)

***

Deandre Goolsby

TE

6’4”

225

Derby (KS)

***

David Sharpe

OL

6’8”

275

Providence Sch.

****

Ryan Sousa

WR

6’0”

180

Lake Nona

***

Moral Stephens

TE

6’3”

205

Taylor County

****

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HOOPS: Walker enrolls at UF

GAINESVILLE -- McDonald's All-American forward Chris Walker was officially admitted to the University of Florida and is eligible to practice immediately, the school announced Saturday.

With UF's fall semester over, the five-star forward from Bonifay -- who did not qualify academically for the fall -- completed the necessary course work and entry requirements to enroll for the spring semester.

BbdZR1BIUAAS-FR.jpg-large

(Courtesy @GatorZoneChris | Billy Donovan, left; Chris Walker, middle; Matt McCall, right)

Walker, a 6-foot-10, 220-pound explosive athlete, immediately boosts No. 19 Florida's already long and aggressive front line.   

Due to an undisclosed NCAA issue, the freshman is not yet eligible to compete for the Gators and has been ruled out against No. 16 Memphis on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden (Jimmy V Classic, 9 p.m., ESPN). 

Per UF, Walker will wear No. 23 for the Gators. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 12, 2013

See ya: Six offensive players leave program

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s bumbling offense ranked last in the Southeastern Conference in most categories in 2013, and with so much uncertainty (no offensive coordinator or line coach) six reserves chose to leave the program Thursday.

In a house cleaning of sorts, UF announced the departure of six offensive players -- including freshman quarterback Max Staver and former five-star tight end sophomore Kent Taylor -- in a statement released by the school. 

Coach Will Muschamp confirmed the transfers of Staver, Taylor, redshirt junior offensive lineman Ian Silberman, redshirt freshman offensive tackle Quinteze Williams, freshman offensive tackle Trayon Young and redshirt freshman fullback Raheim Ledbetter.

“These young men felt it was in their best interest to look for an opportunity to play somewhere else,” Muschamp said. “We wish all of them the best of luck.”

The mass exodus may not be complete, as additional departures loom.

Several players tweeted goodbyes throughout the day. 

Screen shot 2013-12-12 at 7.45.57 PM

Screen shot 2013-12-12 at 7.48.23 PM

Screen shot 2013-12-12 at 7.50.49 PM

Silberman, who started seven games in the last two seasons, actually graduates Saturday and is eligible to play his senior year at any school outside the SEC in the fall. 

Staver, Young and Williams were all three-star prospects who never saw the field at Florida, while Ledbetter came to UF as a safety but was switched to fullback last spring. The cousin of former UF star linebacker Brandon Spikes played sparingly on special teams during Florida’s 4-8 season.

Taylor, a hybrid tight end who struggled with weight gain and run blocking, was hampered by injuries during his sophomore season and never saw the field after catching a touchdown pass in the Sugar Bowl. It was a disappointing end for the former heralded recruit who was positioned to vie for serious playing time during preseason camp.

Aside from Silberman's graduation,none of the transfers were surprising. The departures do open up scholarships for February's National Signing Day, allowing the Gators to add up to 22 players.   

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 10, 2013

HOOPS: Gators topple Jayhawks

GAINESVILLE -- No. 19 Florida bullied No. 13 Kansas 67-61 in a raucous O’Connell Center on Tuesday night.

The Gators picked up their first marquee win of the year thanks to a suffocating defensive effort -- including a 21-0 run in the first half -- and a transcendent performance by senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin.    

Here are three thoughts on UF’s victory.

1. Age trumps beauty

Kansas (6-3) started four freshmen -- guard Andrew Wiggins, guard Frank Mason, guard Wanye Selden Jr. and center Joel Embiid -- for the first time in their program’s rich history. Meanwhile, the veteran Gators (7-2) started four seniors -- Wilbekin, forward Casey Prather, forward Will Yeguete and center Pat Young. So something had to give.  Ultimately, Florida’s experience schooled Kansas’ young talent, but coach Bill Self’s gamble worked for about three minutes. And then it didn't. After the Jayhawks jumped out to an early 10-3 lead, they chased the scoreboard the rest of the game as their freshmen were visibly rattled by the rowdy atmosphere and Florida’s punishing press and 1-3-1 zone defense. The Gators stymied the Jayhawks’ aggressive penetration, forcing 16 first-half turnovers en route to a 36-21 halftime lead. Selden, KU’s third-leading scorer who finished with just four points and three turnovers, was so flustered by Florida’s pressure he didn’t log a single minute in the second half. Still KU’s talented freshman, especially Mr. Wiggins (more in a second), flashed enough playmaking skills UF coach Billy Donovan said afterwards, “There may not be a team in the country that has as high of a ceiling as (Kansas does)." Having said that… Florida’s ceiling is rather high too. The Gators toppled a very good team Tuesday night, and the game may have been a blowout had they knocked down free throws (a measly 59 percent) or avoided another second half marred by complacency (40 points allowed). Florida still isn’t totally healthy and the (likely) addition of athletic forward Chris Walker will make an-already very solid defensive team potentially dominant. Donovan can only hope to bottle-up Young’s recent production (12 points, 6 rebounds, 1 block) while he tinkers with various lineups involving Kasey Hill, Dorian-Finney Smith, Michael Frazier and the other three seniors.

2. H.A.M Part I

Wilbekin was masterful Tuesday night despite being fresh off an ankle sprain late in a disappointing performance in Florida’s buzzer-beating loss at Connecticut. The senior point guard, who played with constant energy and fire, flashed his newly-polished offensive skills -- filthy floaters and finishes, improved 3-point range -- while continuing his outstanding hustle and tenacious perimeter defense. He finished the evening with 18 points, six assists and four steals, but his stat-sheet stuffing hardly does just on his impact. The Gators clearly fed of his intensity and passion throughout the evening.

3. H.A.M. Part Deux

Florida’s Rowdy Reptiles provided an electric atmosphere for the primetime showdown. The boisterous students waited in the rain all day Tuesday, making Donovan joke postgame, “I don’t know if our student body is going to pass any of their exams.” And yet, the crowd’s “OVERRATED” chant IN THE FIRST HALF at KU’s freshman phenom was utterly ridiculous. Asinine actually. Wiggins, a tantalizing talent who effortlessly impacts every facet of the game, was scary good Tuesday night without ever actually dominating the game. The freshman did not disappoint with a career performance, recording a collegiate-high 26 points (including three treys in a span of 90 seconds to close KU’s deficit to five late) and 11 rebounds. His monstrous block (second only to Embiid’s insane rejection on Prather) and gliding transition finish were just two plays that left a bevy of NBA scouts salivating. 

THIS & THAT

Roughly 20 NBA scouts were in attendance. … Hill and Wilbekin played together for the first time all season. … Florida extended its home-winning streak to 21 games. … The Gators forced 24 turnovers. Kansas’ season-high was 16. … Kansas, who ran the clogged toilet offense for much of the first half, slowly grinded its way back into the game with contstant fouling. At one point Self employed the hack-a-Pat strategy, as the Gators struggled to hit free throws. Prather was a cluch 10-for-10 before missing two late, but the rest of the team was a dreadful 10-of-22. … Finney-Smith was 1-of-10 from 3-point range in his last four games, but the redshirt sophomore drained 4-of-6 from behind the arc Tuesday night. 

VIDEOS

 

 

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December 09, 2013

Hargreaves III earns All-SEC nod

GAINESVILLE -- Freshman phenom Vernon Hargreaves III was a rare bright spot in an otherwise miserable season for Florida, and the outstanding cornerback was rewarded by media members for his strong play Monday. 

Hargreaves III was one of three Gators named to 2013 The Associated Press All-SEC Team. The cornerback was UF's lone first-team representative and also the sole freshman (true or redshirt) named to the first team. 

Img.bleacherreport.net(courtesy img.bleacherreport.net) 

The dynamic defensive back, ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the country according to Rivals.com, flashed his electric talent immediately for the Gators. Hargreaves, who recorded picks in three of his first four collegiate games, burst onto the scene in such a fashion the team actually changed his uniform number from 16 to 1 after just a single game.   

Hargreaves III played in all 12 games for Florida, starting the final 10.  He recorded 38 tackles, three interceptions, 11 pass breakups and a conference-leading 14 passes defended.   

In a bit of a snub, Hargreaves -- Florida's first true freshman named to the All-SEC first team since punter Shayne Edge (1991) -- was not honored as the league's freshman of the year. 

Arkansas tailback Alex Collins took home the award despite not being named to either team. 

Junior cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, who recently declared for the 2014 NFL Draft, and sophomore BUCK linebacker/defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. were named to the All-SEC second team.

The complete list…

***** UPDATE *****

Hargreaves was also named to the Coaches' All-SEC first team. The cornerback was again the lone freshman honored. 

Florida wideout Solomon Patton was named to the second team as a return specialist. The senior led the Gators in all-purpose yards (1269), including 642 kickoff return yardage and a 100-yard touchdown. 

The coaches' list...

Note: Following a 11-win season in 2012, the Gators had seven representatives -- including six first-team members: TE Jordan Reed, RB Mike Gillislee, K Caleb Sturgis, DT Sharrif Floyd, S Matt Elam, P Kyle Christy -- on the AP All-SEC teams. ... The coaches All-SEC teams will be released later this week. 

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HOOPS: Wilbekin, Hill to play against Kansas

GAINESVILLE -- For the first time all season, Billy Donovan's team will have both its headliner point guards available for the same game. 

Scottie Wilbekin (ankle sprain) and Kasey Hill (high ankle sprain) will play in No. 19 Florida's marquee matchup with No. 13 Kansas on Tuesday night (7 p.m., ESPN), Donovan announced Monday. 

Wilbekin -- hurt late in UF's heartbreaking loss at Connecticut (Dec. 2) -- was originally diagnosed with a high ankle sprain, but team trainers later reclassified the senior's injury and ruled Wilbekin "probable" over the weekend for UF's top-25 showdown. 

Hill, sidelined since Nov. 18, practiced full-contact Sunday for the first time since sustaining his injury against Southern University. Donovan acknowledged the staff doesn't quite "know what we're going to get from him," but did say Hill will at least "get an opportunity." 

WALKER UPDATE

McDonald's All-American forward Chris Walker has completed the necessary coursework and could be admitted to the university sometime this week, Donovan said. 

The freshman, ineligible for the fall semester, is waiting for the green light from both UF's admissions department and the NCAA Clearinghouse. 

Donovan said the situation is "out of our hands," but that Walker " has done everything he needs to do."

The earliest the 6-foot-10, 225-pound forward can practice with the team is Saturday -- the day after final exams end for the fall semester. But Donovan immediately ruled Walker out for Florida's next game -- a New York City showdown with Memphis on Dec. 17 (Madison Square Garden, Jimmy V Classic).  

THIS & THAT

Sophomore swingman DeVon Walker (foot sprain) is healthy and expected to play normal minutes Tuesday. … Redshirt junior guard Eli Carter (broken leg) will officially redshirt, Donovan confirmed. Carter, who averaged just 7.6 minutes in seven games this season, will apply for a medical redshirt due to his slow-healing broken leg suffered last February as a member of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. … Donovan denied a report suspended center Damontre Harris, a transfer from South Carolina, has been dismissed from Florida. 

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December 07, 2013

Roundup: Gators football news & updates

GAINESVILLE -- Giddy up.

Here’s everything you may have missed since Florida’s dreadful season mercifully ended one week ago.

What’s that you say? Florida canned its offensive coordinator and offensive line coach?

Ok, y’all already knew that, but UF’s brain trust (coach Will Muschamp and athletic director Jeremy Foley) is taking its sweet-time searching for Florida’s third coordinator in four seasons.

Good call.

While speculation has run rampant since Brent Pease’s firing, the Gators are unlikely to hire a new coach before the end of bowl season.

Muschamp actually took a similar approach the last time he faced such a predicament -- hiring Pease on Jan. 10, 2012 -- but considering his ultimate fate with the Gators likely rides on his next hire, he’d be wise to take his time again. 

Florida’s (rumored) list of potential coordinator candidates runs longer than an episode of A Prairie Home Companion, but here she goes. 

Arizona State’s Mike Norvell and Southern California’s Clay Helton are the presumed frontrunners, while Dave Christensen (ex-Wyoming head coach), Texas’ Major Applewhite, Texas A&M’s Jake Spavital and North Carolina’s Blake Anderson are alleged candidates too.

Really, who the hell knows right now?

I continue to hold out hope for Ed Orgeron because why not? Having no offensive coordinator would be the most Will Muschamp thing ever.   

Stay tuned.

PURIFOY BOLTS TO THE NFL

As anticipated, junior cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy declared for the 2014 NFL Draft earlier this week.

In an official statement released by the school, Purifoy said, “I have had a great three years at the University of Florida, but at this time I think it's best for me and my family to pursue a career in the NFL. Coach Muschamp and Coach [Travaris] Robinson have put me in a position to take the next step. I know there is still a lot of work for me ahead, but I appreciate what everyone at Florida did to get me to this point. As much as I look forward to playing in the NFL, I will miss my teammates and coaches and look forward to watching them play next year."

Img.bleacherreport.net(courtesy img.bleacherreport.net)

Purifoy, a dynamic athlete ranked as the No. 27 overall prospect according to Scouts Inc., ended his Florida career as a tantalizing talent.

The junior flashed his playmaking skills with blocked punts, blindside sacks and interceptions, but his inconsistencies (especially tackling) frustrated many fans’ lofty expectations.

During the preseason, the junior was hyped as a potential offensive threat, but a lingering wrist issue thwarted any extensive role.

Purifoy finished his junior year with two interceptions (one for a touchdown), seven pass breakups and 3.5 tackles for loss (two sacks).

"There are a lot of factors that go into making these individual and personal decisions and I'm 100 percent supportive of Loucheiz's choice to enter into the NFL Draft," Muschamp said. "Loucheiz has come a long way from when I sat in his living room with his family during the recruiting process, and he also knows his work is not done. We wish him nothing but the best of luck and look forward to watching him on Sundays. As we have with other former Gators, we encourage him to return to Florida and complete his degree." 

SENIOR BOWL INVITES

Right guard Jon Halapio and defensive back Jaylen Watkins both accepted invitations to the 2014 Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL. 

Watkins, who mostly played safety as a senior, finished third on the Gators in tackles with 52, while Halapio tallied 43 career starts.  

RECRUITING UPDATES

2014 wideout Ryan Sousa (Lake Nona High, Orlando) flipped his verbal commitment from Florida State to Florida late Monday evening. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound three-star prospect had been a longtime Seminoles commit before switching his allegiance to the Gators following his visit to Gainesville during the FSU-UF game. The Gators’ 2014 class, ranked No. 15 by Rivals.com, now has 16 verbal commitments.

Meanwhile, five-star tailback Dalvin Cook has reportedly (according to multiple recruiting websites) signed financial aid agreements with Miami, FSU and UF, allowing the teams’ staff unlimited contact throughout the remainder of the recruiting process. While it’s been a bumpy recruitment, Cook remains a UF commit despite rumors swirling of an impending flip to an archrival school.

Finally, quarterback prospect Will Grier -- perhaps Florida’s most important oral commit in its 2014 class -- was named the Gatorade North Carolina Player of the Year for the second straight year. 

Enjoy Championship Saturday, y’all.

 Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 05, 2013

Wilbekin likely to play vs. KU, Finney-Smith seeks consistency

GAINESVILLE -- Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin (high ankle sprain) is expected to play against No. 6 Kansas on Tuesday (7 p.m. ESPN), according to sources with knowledge of Wilbekin’s injury situation.

Wilbekin rolled his right ankle late in Florida’s buzzer-beating loss at No. 12 Connecticut on Monday, and the school later announced X-rays were negative but that they showed a high-ankle sprain. 

If Wilbekin -- who is averaging 11.3 points, 5.7 assists and 3.3 steals in three games this year -- is unable to suit up against the athletic Jayhawks (6-1), the shorthanded Gators (6-2) face the prospect of playing a second game this season without a traditional point guard.

With positional uncertainty, the Gators desperately need versatile forward Dorian Finney-Smith to step up.

Zimbo.com(Courtesy zimbo.com)

Although the redshirt sophomore has rebounded (both offensively and defensively) at a ridiculous rate this year, the former Virginia Tech transfer has been inefficient in nearly every other facet of his game.

Teased as a playmaking point-forward, Finney-Smith has struggled as facilitator, finisher and shooter for Florida.

The 6-foot-8, 205-pound sophomore poses matchup problems for opposing defenses, but early in the season he’s caused more troubles for UF’s otherwise efficient offense (48 percent field goal shooting ranks No. 8 nationally).

After tallying 17 points and nine rebounds in his Gators debut, Finney-Smith has produced wildly inconsistent results since.

In Florida’s last four games, Finney-Smith has 12 turnovers to five assists and is an abysmal 1-of-10 from 3-point range. His 36 percent field goal shooting is the lowest of any UF rotational regular averaging at least 20 minutes per game.

Finney-Smith is immensely talented, and during the summer he was rumored to be the best player on the team, but the Gators need his versatile skill-set and athleticism to translate into consistent production. 

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December 04, 2013

Bumped: Gators catch flight while travelers wait

GAINESVILLE -- The No. 15 Gators men’s basketball team, who lost a buzzer-beater to No. 12 Connecticut 65-64 Monday night in Storrs, Conn., had some issues leaving the Gainesville Regional Airport on Sunday afternoon, but eventually they caught their ride.

Unfortunately, roughly 50 stranded passengers -- travelling on the Sunday after Thanksgiving -- weren’t so lucky.

As first reported by the Gainesville Sun, Florida’s charter plane, scheduled to depart at 3 p.m., was grounded due to engine maintenance issues.

In an effort to limit delays, Delta Airlines Flight 5059 -- an Atlanta-bound commercial connection plane scheduled to depart Gainesville at 3:26 p.m. -- was converted into a private charter for the basketball team.

Delta delayed and ultimately cancelled Flight 5059, originally telling travelers there were mechanical difficulties until some of the passengers noticed the team boarding their aircraft.

The Sun reported several passengers drove to Jacksonville, Orlando or Tampa to catch alternate flights, but some were stranded in Gainesville as late as Monday afternoon. 

Delta Airlines accepted full responsibility for the travelers’ inconvenience, saying “the University of Florida in no way participated in the decision-making process.”

In an official statement, Delta explained they intended to accommodate both the Florida basketball team and the private passengers but their plan fell through.

“Delta Connection partner ExpressJet, which operated both the charter as well as the regularly scheduled flight, made the operational decision to swap aircraft as the maintenance work was expected to be done quickly. Unfortunately, it was not and Delta flight 5059 was cancelled.  Delta made every effort to reaccommodate those customers on alternate flights and we apologize to the 50 customers who were inconvenienced.”

The airline also said an internal review is underway to determine “the specific circumstances around this aircraft substitution.”

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December 03, 2013

HOOPS: Wilbekin sidelined indefinitely

GAINESVILLE -- Something is seriously in the water in Gainesville.

No. 15 Florida lost a heartbreaker 65-64 to No. 12 Connecticut on the road Monday night, but another late-game defeat -- dropping UF coach Billy Donovan’s career-record to 59-78 in games decided by five points or less -- is hardly the team’s most pressing matter moving forward. 

On Tuesday, the school announced senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin, who stepped on an opponent’s foot with 3:01 remaining in the loss to the Huskies, is out indefinitely with a high-ankle sprain.

453182671(Courtesy gettyimages.com)

Although X-rays were negative, the senior’s injury leaves UF’s backcourt (and an-already snakebitten team) paper-thin.

Wilbekin averaged 11.3 points, 5.7 assists and 3.3 steals in three games since returning from a six-game suspension to start the year.

Florida (6-2) is down to just six healthy scholarship players and could face No. 6 Kansas (6-1) next Tuesday (Dec. 10) without its best ballhandler or perimeter defender.

UF has just one available guard (sophomore sniper Michael Frazier II), although sophomore swingman DeVon Walker, currently sidelined with a foot sprain, is expected to return against the Jayhawks.

The Gators are now without six players expected to contribute this season:

* Wilbekin

* Freshman point guard Kasey Hill (high-ankle sprain suffered Nov. 18)

* Junior transfer guard Eli Carter (broken leg)

* Junior transfer center Damontre Harris (suspended indefinitely)

* Freshman forward Chris Walker (academic eligibility)

* Sophomore guard Dillon Graham (hip bone spurs)

THIS & THAT

Carter will officially redshirt, the USA TODAY reported. The junior guard’s fate had been a foregone conclusion, as the Rutgers transfer -- hampered by a slow-healing broken leg sustained last February -- averaged just 7.6 minutes in seven games this season. Carter did not play against UConn. … During the UF-UConn telecast, ESPN analyst Andy Katz reported freshman-signee Chris Walker remains on pace to join the Gators sometime in mid-December. According to Katz, the freshman is waiting on an academic decision by the NCAA Clearinghouse.  … Florida will play in a loaded eight-team field for the 2014 “Battle 4 Atlantis.” The Gators join a monster group including North Carolina, UCLA, Georgetown, Wisconsin, Butler, Oklahoma and UAB for the Thanksgiving weekend tournament in Paradise Island, Bahamas. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 02, 2013

Bleak: Florida by the numbers

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s season mercifully ended following Saturday’s 37-7 whooping at the hands of archrival Florida State. The Gators ended the season on a seven-game losing streak. Here’s Florida’s 2013 statistical finish. Note: All rankings are national.

OFFENSE 

* No. 112 scoring offense (18.8 points per game). From the power five conferences, only Wake Forest, Kansas and Purdue finished behind UF.

* Florida State (84) scored 57 more touchdowns than Florida (27). 

* No. 114 total offense (316.7 yards per game) 

* No. 110 yards per play (4.79). Florida was the only Southeastern Conference offense to average less than five yards a play.

* No. 87 rushing yards (144.58 ypg). Florida’s 3.63 yards per carry ranked No. 100 in the country. 

* No. 82 sacks allowed (27). 

* No. 78 third down conversion rate (38.73 percent).

* No. 114 scrimmage plays 10+ yards (131). Oregon led the country with 251. 

* No. 121 red zone efficiency (69.77 percent).

DEFENSE

* No. 19 scoring defense (21.1 ppg). Florida was the SEC’s fourth-best scoring defense.

* No. 10 total defense (314.3 ypg). The Gators played the seventh-fewest defensive snaps in the nation.

* No. 34 rushing defense (142.42 ypg). However, Florida’s 4.35 ypr ranked No. 74. 

* No. 8 passing defense (171.8 ypg). Florida allowed just nine passing touchdowns -- third-fewest nationally. 

* No. 91 sacks (19).

* No. 102 tackles for loss (61). Clemson topped the country with 113.

* No. 21 opponent third down conversion rate (34 percent).

MISC. 

* No. 4 time of possession (33:49 mpg).

* No. 103 penalty yardage per game (59.3).  UF finished last in the SEC for the third consecutive season.

* No. 71 turnover margin (-2). After forcing 35 turnovers in 2012, the Gators tallied just 18 takeaways this season.

* No. 117 field goal rate (12-of-22, 54.5 percent). UF’s 10 missed kicks is tied for third-worst in the country. 

And you wonder how Florida went 4-8?

Thoughts? Any category I didn’t include you’re interested in?

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December 01, 2013

Florida fires two assistants following dreadful season

ICYMI: The updated story on the firings of offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis.

Cbssports.com(Brent Pease | courtesy cbssports.com)

GAINESVILLE -- Well that didn’t take long.

A day removed from Florida’s worst home loss ever to Florida State -- a 37-7 thrashing -- UF coach Will Muschamp decided change couldn’t wait.

The Gators fired offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis early Sunday afternoon, confirming weeks of speculation and scapegoating.

"I have a lot of respect for Coach Pease and Coach Davis,'' Muschamp said in an official statement. "They are both good football coaches and even better people. There have been a lot of unfortunate circumstances this year, but that is part of the game sometimes. I want to thank each of them for their contributions to the program both on and off the field."

Tim daivs

(Tim Davis | courtesy UF Communications)

The Gators (4-8), who ended the season on a seven-game losing streak, will conduct a search for an offensive coordinator for the third time in four years.

Pease, a veteran coordinator at Kentucky and Boise State before coming to Florida in 2012, presided over a unit that ended the year ranked No. 114 nationally and last in the Southeastern Conference in total yards (316.7 ypg), average play (4.79 ypp), scoring offense (18.8 ppg), touchdowns (19) and red zone offense (44 percent).

UF’s attack was decimated by injuries -- two quarterbacks, a starting tailback, three offensive tackles -- but its weekly “ineptitude” was too much to overlook, according to Muschamp.

Muschamp called Florida’s offensive struggles “infectious” following the team’s humiliating loss to FCS-foe Georgia Southern two weeks ago.

The contagion spread to UF’s once-impenetrable defense, which was shredded through the air and on the ground over the final month of the season.

“The offense is just three-and-out, three-and-out, three-and-out,” sophomore defensive end Jon Bullard frustratingly admitted after UF’s season-ending thumping to FSU.

“Give us 21 a game,” he said. “If they can do that, then I would put the blame on us if they score 21 points or over. Hopefully change for the better, because what we're doing right now just ain't working.”

Pease, who was under contract through 2015 and owed roughly 1.2 million, said earlier last week he deserved another season based on so many extenuating circumstances.

But for the third straight season Florida’s offense finished the year ranked in the bottom-20 nationally in total yards -- the last two seasons under Pease’s control -- and failed to score over 20 points during the team’s longest losing streak in 34 years.

"I know we came up short of our ultimate goal, but I will carry on knowing I gained valuable friendships and relationships during my time here,” Pease said in UF’s official statement.

Against FSU, Florida tallied less than 200 yards for the second time this season and nearly had as many drives under four plays (six) as first downs (eight). Afterwards, Muschamp refused to comment on any potential coaching changes but acknowledged a reevaluation of UF’s offensive philosophy.

“We need to take a look at ourselves schematically with what we’re doing,” Muschamp said. “There have been some things that have happened that are very difficult to overcome, but schematically, there’s no question we need to take a look at ourselves.”

Muschamp also dismissed the notion he only prefers a grind it out, ball-control offense is wrong.

“Perception’s not always reality,” Muschamp said. “I’m willing to do what we need to do to score points and win games.”

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Report: Pease, Davis fired

GAINESVILLE -- According to multiple reports (AP, CBS Sports), offensive coordinator Brent Pease has been fired following Florida's first losing season in 34 years. 

Offensive line coach Tim Davis was also let go, according to several reports.

***** UPDATE *****

The school offically confirms Pease and Davis were fired. 

Pease, scapegoated following Florida's 4-8 year including a 37-7 thrashing at the hands of archrival No. 2 Florida State, presided over an offense that ended the year ranked No. 114 nationally. Florida's offense was decimated by injuries, but for the third straight season the unit finished in the bottom-20 of the country in total yards. 

Pease is owed roughly 1.2 million for the two years remaining on his contract. 

More to come. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

November 30, 2013

Gator Grades: Shellacked

GAINESVILLE -- No. 2 Florida State (predictably) smoked Florida 37-7, mercifully ending the Gators’ brutal season (seven straight losses and no bowl game). With a roaring ‘War Chant’, the Seminoles took over The Swamp en route to their 12th win -- and now just one victory away from Pasadena. Saturday’s rapid reaction grades on UF’s abysmal performance.

OFFENSE F

Florida tallied under 200 yards for just the second time this season. The Gators nearly had as many drives of four plays or less (6) then first downs (8). Trey Burton’s shoulder injury hurt -- limiting UF’s Wild-Gator attack -- but considering Saturday was Florida’s “bowl game,” there were no additional wrinkles. It was hardly a kitchen-sink game plan. UF was just 1-of-11 on third down. Yikes.

DEFENSE D

Last week, the Gators didn’t allow a single completion. On Saturday, Jameis Winston -- sublime all afternoon -- shredded Florida for 327 yards and three scores. Wideout Kelvin Benjamin (219 yards, three touchdowns) was unstoppable. Florida actually played inspired, spirited defense to start the game (two sacks, an interception, lone field) before FSU’s 96-yard touchdown drive jumpstarted the blowout. UF also wore down up front, as FSU rushed for 153 yards -- 142 after halftime. The Seminoles gashed the Gators on third down, converting 9-of-15.

SPECIAL TEAMS C 

Another missed field goal (DRINK), but the coverage units were again solid. Freshman punter Johnny Townsend pinned a 46-yard kick at the 4-yard line, while Solomon Patton had another long kickoff return.

Thoughts? Comments?

Pull. 

Unplugged: Muschamp, players rehash FSU loss

GAINESVILLE -- Florida coach Will Muschamp -- somber and solemn -- addresses reporters following Florida's seventh-straight loss, a 37-7 beatdown to archrival Florida State. 

The Gators' three-game skid in The Swamp is their longest losing streak since 1988. 

 

DE Jon Bullard

“I don't think I really ran out of gas, but I think everybody started looking at the scoreboard as a collective group and saying, ‘Dang, the offense is just three-and-out, three-and-out, three-and-out.’ But I mean, it's not all on them. We let them get 37 points. We've just got to regroup, get better next year and hopefully our D-line can be even better than it was this year.”

“Whatever [the offense changes this offseason] do hopefully is changed for the best. Give us 21 a game. If they can do that, then I would put the blame on us if they score 21 points or over. Hopefully change for the better, because what we're doing right now just ain't working.”

DB Cody Riggs

“We have a lot of payback [to dish out]. Lost to a lot of teams this year, and we have a lot of games marked on our schedule next year.”

LT Max Garcia

“It hasn’t been the season we wanted, and we really felt like a victory today could have atoned for the past year. Obviously we didn’t get that done, so extremely upset about it. I wish [the seniors] could have gone out with a win.” 

“It hasn’t been the season we wanted, and we really felt like a victory today could have atoned for the past year. Obviously we didn’t get that done, so extremely upset about it. I wish they could have gone out with a win." 

“Honestly, I feel like we hit rock bottom this year. I feel like the only way we can go is up. … You have to remember what happened, and you want to not let that happen ever again. We don’t want to feel that pain. We don’t want to feel this pain ever again. I’m sick and tired of losing. Next year, we have that pain to sit in our hearts. We have to work through that, and we have to take that pain and make it into intensity , make it into effort, make it into want-to.” 

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Saturday Selections: Florida-Florida State thread

GAINESVILLE -- We're moments away from a windy (and chilly) Senior Day kickoff in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The Gators hope to avoid losing three straight games at home for the first time since 1986. The Gators are nearly four touchdown underdogs, but they insist they can still upset the No. 2 Seminoles

We'll see. 

It's a late arriving crowd (again), as the student section isn't even halfway filled. 

Yo

Much of the morning has been dominated by Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley's impromptu press conference, where he reiterated his unwavering support for embattled coach Will Muschamp. 

I'll have more on Foley's message later. 

PREGAME NEWS AND NOTES

* Redshirt freshman quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg will make his third straight start. 

* Florida won the toss and opted to RECEIVE 

* The Gators honored 15 seniors in a short ceremony 

PICKS

Scoreboard: 44-24-2 ATS, 6-5 selecting Florida games 

Florida (+27.5) vs. Florida State. Because why not. The Gators won't pull off the upset but I can see this being an ugly, slow game.  

Stay warm and enjoy the weekend, everybody.

 Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

November 29, 2013

HOOPS: Gators win seesaw affair

GAINESVILLE -- Dorian-Finney Smith labored all evening. He missed two one-handed dunks, was 0-of-4 from the 3-point line and seemed to mentally press on his first game on a national stage, but the Virginia Tech transfer overcame all his struggles to ultimately make the game-winning play for the Gators. 

Finney-Smith’s free throw with 1.3 seconds sealed No. 15 Florida’s fifth straight win over Florida State 67-66 in a rocking (and sold out) O’Dome on Friday night. 

Hoops

The sophomore, who finished with six points (on 2-of-12 shooting) and 10 rebounds (six on the offensive glass), corralled Scottie Wilbekin’s missed jumper and was fouled on his put-back attempt. He missed the first free throw before connecting on the second attempt.

But the drama was hardly over.

The Gators averted a late collapse after FSU guard Ian Miller, who drained a contested 3-pointer moments earlier, narrowly missed a halfcourt heave at the buzzer.

Senior forward Casey Prather led the Gators with 19 points and had the highlight of the game: a hellacious alley-oop dunk on a beautiful pass from Wilbekin out of a timeout. Sophomore sniper Michael Frazier II added 15 on five timely treys.

 

RANDOM THOUGHTS

* FSU’s 7-footers Michael Ojo (7’2”) and Boris Bojanovsky (7’3”) -- despite their relative inexperience and subpar season statistics -- were a tough matchup for Florida’s frontcourt. Bojanovsky, FSU’s Slovakian sophomore, scored a career-high 14 points on a perfect 6-for-6 from the field. Ojo, a sophomore who weighs nearly 300 pounds, chipped in 10 points and six rebounds in just 14 minutes. Both bigs were in and out of foul trouble though, a key factor late in the game.

* Wilbekin did a lot of everything Friday night – good and bad. The senior guard, playing in just his second game since returning from a six-game suspension, scored just seven points (2-for-12) as he could never find his midrange touch. Yet Wilbekin again proved his value distributing the ball and piloting UF's aggressive on-ball defense. The senior finished with eight assists and five steals. 

* While the second half was entertaining, Friday’s contest was another game marred by whistles and poor shooting. The Gators opened the evening 4-of-19 and finished the night shootin just 38.5 percent from the field. The two teams combined for 38 fouls and 21 turnovers.

* Cult hero Jake “The Snake” Kurtz continued his impressive play, as the walk-on chipped in eight points and five rebounds in 18 minutes off the bench. Meanwhile, seniors Patric Young (four points, four rebounds, four fouls) and Will Yeguete (six points, six rebounds) labored for much of the evening. 

* Florida State nearly rallied late to upset UF thanks to some strong free throw shooting. FSU was 20-23 from the charity stripe, while Florida shot just 62 percent (15-of-24) from the line. 

ICYMI: Brunch Buffet (of hot links)

GAINESVILLE -- It's Thanksgiving weekend, why stop eating?

Lots of leftovers today...

* No love lost. Florida defensive tackle Damien Jacobs remembers FSU snub. Also, an updated injury report with quarterback Tyler Murphy "questionable" for the third straight week.

* Famous Jameis or bust. Gators only preparing to face Winston despite legal troubles.

* Florida is running out of linebackers.

* Longtime buddies. Will Muschamp and Jimbo Fisher go way back

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

UF's coaches preview FSU

GAINESVILLE -- Florida coach Will Muschamp, offensive coordinator Brent Pease and defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin breakdown this weekend's matchup against No. 2 Florida State. 

The Gators and Seminoles square off Saturday at noon (ESPN). 

 

 

 

November 28, 2013

HOOPS: Walker, Harris updates

GAINESVILLE -- Sophomore guard DeVon Walker is “day-to-day” and questionable for Friday’s game against Florida State with a mild foot sprain, according to coach Billy Donovan.

Walker sustained the injury in Florida’s 86-60 win at Jacksonville on Monday night.

“X-Rays came back negative,” Donovan said. “No break. It’s not even a sprained ankle. … He tweaked his ligament kind of down on the bottom or side of his foot.”

Donovan also updated the status of injured point guard Kasey Hill, sidelined with a high-ankle sprain.

“He’s making positive progress,” Donovan said.   

HARRIS UPDATE
Donovan remains very disappointed with South Carolina transfer Damontre Harris, a 6-foot-10 center who hasn’t practiced with the team since Nov. 1.

Harris, currently suspended indefinitely after already sitting out all of the 2012-13 season due to NCAA transfer stipulations, is “at a crossroads” and must “make a life decision.”

“We support people here. We're always willing to reach out and to help, but when it is a consistent pattern of behavior, of not accepting, taking the help or going where you're supposed to be, being where you're supposed to be or doing what you're supposed to do. At a certain point, he's got to want to say this is what I want and this is what I'm prepared to do,” Donovan explained. “He has not done that. He has said, ‘This is what I'd like. I want to play on the team.’ Well, this is what you have to do. What he wants and what he has to do are not matching up. I'm now at a crossroads in the dilemma. Does he want to play? Does he not want to play?”

Donovan didn’t mince his words with Harris’ struggles, saying, “When you have all the resources here at Florida to really help someone in every possible area -- on the court, off the court, academically, weight room, film -- and you’re not taking advantage of it, at some point he’s the one responsible. ... He’s in the dorm. It’d be very easy for him to come over to my office to talk. He’s not come over here one time. And I’m certainly not going to chase him around. That’s got to be something he wants to do.”

Donovan continued: “But there’s zero accountability at all. You can’t call meetings or have a strength coach be here to work you out and just not show up. … There are things you have to do and when you don’t do that, at some point, there are consequences and levels of accountability you have to assume as a young man. I’m all for giving guys second chances. I think Scottie [Wilbekin] is a much better player and person for what he had to go through. And I think Damontre has to make a decision. Do I want to change? Do I want my life to change for the better? Or do I want to just through cruise through life and not do anything. He’s got to make that choice.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton 

November 27, 2013

Seniors reflect on trying season

GAINESVILLE -- Jon Halapio never imagined his senior season spiraling out of control.

Florida’s gritty right guard -- a four-year regular with 42 career starts -- admitted he’s “ready to move forward with life,” but the fifth-year senior said he's also proud of what he accomplished at UF and “wouldn’t want to play on any other team.”

“I had a wonderful opportunity to play at, still in my opinion, the best school education-wise, and I wouldn’t want to play on any other team,” said Halapio, who's played through a painful torn pectoral muscle all season. “It’s hard to say that with the stuff that we’ve been going through, but I still feel the same way. I wouldn’t want to be on any other team.”

When Florida hosts Florida State on Saturday (noon, ESPN) -- as a four-touchdown underdog -- 18 seniors will wear the orange and blue for the final time.

FSU is UF’s bowl game this season.

The Gators, 4-7 and mired in a six-game losing streak, will honor Halapio, Trey Burton, Jeremy Brown, Dominique Easley, Jon Harrison, Damien Jacobs, Darrin Kitchens, Kyle Koehne, Solomon Patton, Jaylen Watkins, Tim Clark and six walk-ons in a pregame ceremony.

Throughout the week, several seniors reflected on a trying season, their careers and an upcoming emotional day.

RG Jon Halapio 

*** “I never thought that my senior season would go like this, especially with four wins at this point. I just experienced a lot here at this program and it’s just gonna make me as an individual stronger.”

*** “There’s a little sense of excitement moving forward with our lives and for this week. It’s FSU week, it’s a rivalry week. I sense a little bit of excitement, yeah, just to move on with our life.”

*** “Man, I just hope I don’t cry. Everybody else has been saying. .. it’s going to be very emotional coming out of the tunnel one last time. I’m very excited, but sad at the same time.”

*** "This is by far the worst season since I've been here."

OL Kyle Koehne

*** “It’s a huge day, you know, last game in The Swamp. I’ve been thinking about this since senior year. It’s hard to believe that the day has actually come but I’m super excited. It’s gonna be awesome to have my family out there on the field with me. It’s been an awesome experience here.”

*** “It’s definitely not how I pictured my senior year. I live and die for this place. Everything we do we do as a team, we do it together. If we’re having a good year, as long as we stick together, we’ll be ok.”

WR Trey Burton

*** “Lot of mixed emotions, really happy for my time here I wouldn't wanna take anything back. The challenges, all that type of stuff has helped me mature as a man and I'm really happy with the way things have gone.”

*** “You never really think about that, you think about and you imagine, picture winning championships and stuff like that.”

*** “Well, I know everything happens for a reason. Obviously we don't know the reason for this right now, but I truly believe that and going through this will help me later in life somehow and that's how I look at it.”

DT Damien Jacobs

*** “It’s bittersweet. Not even just for the simple fact that it’s been a bad season, but mostly because I’m ready to move on to the next part of my life. That’s why it’s bittersweet.”

*** “There’s always something to play for – pride and respect, not just myself, but this school.”

DB Jaylen Watkins

*** “It’s going to be very emotional for all of us. We’ve been here four years, some five. We have some who have been here six years. It’s a new chapter for most of us to after football and actually graduating. Some of us are graduating next month. It’s going to be very exciting for both us and our families.” 

*** “This is our last game we’ll ever play in The Swamp in an orange and blue jersey, so all of the seniors I know are going to go out and give everything they’ve got.”

*** “The injuries, just to see my teammates, the ones that are injured on the sideline knowing they can't help. That's the toughest thing for me. I'm pretty sure if we had all our guys this season it would be different. I'm not making any excuses, but it's tough to see everyone else play through that. We've got younger guys having to step up, but I'm pretty sure that'll be good experience for them in the future.”

*** "This has been a rough year for all of us. I'd like for all of us to go out and compete this last game and show the Gator Nation we still are here and that we're going to keep playing no matter what."

VIDEO: Halapio talks “the last one,” the chance to “resolve the whole season,” Florida’s infamous blocking gaffe and more.

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Dead man walking?

GAINESVILLE -- Brent Pease appears resigned to his fate.

During a somber press conference Tuesday, Florida’s besieged offensive coordinator was peppered with hot-seat questions instead of how to score on No. 2 Florida State’s hotshot defense.

Pease said he hopes to return to the Gators in 2014 and believes he’s earned the right do so, but the embattled coach acknowledged his murky future with the team. 

“I think you look at the first year and some of the situations and knowing the body of work and not just a game-to-game basis and situations we’ve been under [this season]. I hope any evaluations are looked at that way,” Pease said in his defense. “But I understand things, too. It’s not like, I know you’ve got to win and have success. If it’s not meant to be… I came into this with friends, and I’m walking out of it with friends.”

During a lengthy press conference -- possibly Pease’s final meeting with the local media with numerous reports regarding his future employment -- UF’s second-year coordinator spoke softly but candidly, handling a number of tough questions with dignity and grace.

Inundated with inquires regarding the fans’ ever-deafening criticism, Pease said, “That’s how it is. If it's coming my way, then it's coming my way. You've just got to kind of take the blows."

Florida’s attack ranks in the bottom-20 nationally in scoring offense (No. 111), total offense (No. 113) and red zone offense (No. 118), but it’s been a unit decimated by injuries. The Gators have lost two quarterbacks, three offensive tackles and a starting tailback to season-ending injuries.

Although head coach Will Muschamp has received a public vote of confidence from the school’s administration, Pease -- and the rest of UF’s offensive staff -- has not. After Florida dropped its sixth-straight game Saturday -- a mind-blowing defeat to Division 1-AA Georgia Southern -- Muschamp called UF’s offensive woes “infectious.”

Muschamp has cited the team’s injury list as a reason to skirt complete culpability for UF’s woeful 4-7 season, and Pease was asked if he’s feeling scapegoated despite the same facts.

"I don't know,” he said. “That's a tough question to answer. … You can always address that question later.”

... For the rest of the piece, click the link

VIDEO: Pease on the offense's "infectious" role, his future, why he deserves to return in 2014 and more.

 

BONUS QUOTE:

Muschamp (Wednesday on Pease): "When you lose three offensive tackles, two quarterbacks, a 1,000-yard rusher and a receiver, it makes it very difficult. Very difficult to call plays. Brent's a good playcaller and an outstanding football coach. It's been frustrating for all of us, including him, our production offensively this year."

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

November 26, 2013

"C'mon"... Florida's lowlight gets laughs

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s dreadful season has been no joke, but everyone -- offensive coordinator Brent Pease included -- got a chuckle out a mind-blowing play that seemed to epitomize UF’s struggles on the offensive side of the ball.

In a (low)light that’s circled the Internet and been featured on ESPN Monday Night Football’s “C’mon Man” segment, two Florida players -- center Jon Harrison and receiver Quinton Dunbar -- blocked each other on a reverse during the second quarter of Saturday’s 26-20 loss to Georgia Southern.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” right guard Jon Halapio said. “I thought it was comical. We’re all in the locker room joking around about it. I don’t even know what happened on that play. I honestly don’t know. [Harrison] was supposed to pull to the right and I think Solomon [Patton] had the ball or something. I guess Quinton got in his way.”

Pease, who caught the play during film study Sunday, said, “Sometimes you just have to laugh, I mean, I’m just like that is … C’mon.”

“I know what Jon was doing,” Pease added. “He’s trying to get around. I guess I’d tell Quinton to keep his eyes open a little bit.”

Halapio thought Harrison “had perfect technique,” but should’ve pancaked his teammate too.

“He got in his way,” Halapio quipped.

  

(courtesy joenoles5)

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Notebook: "Make some plays," injury updates & Muschamp on the media

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s sputtering offense barely managed 20 points in Saturday’s humiliating loss to Georgia Southern, and now the freefalling unit must prepare for the nation’s No. 2 scoring defense: archrival Florida State.

UF ranks last in the Southeastern Conference in scoring (19.9) and total offense (327.9 yards per game), but redshirt freshman quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg said the offense must execute better and play with more confidence considering the sizeable mismatch. 

“We gotta make some plays,” Mornhinweg said. “We’ve got to go out, execute and put points on the board.”

FSU has allowed more than 17 points just one time all season, while the Gators haven’t scored more than 20 points in nearly eight weeks. 

INJURY UPDATE

Quarterback Tyler Murphy (shoulder) is questionable for Saturday’s rivalry game, while sophomore left tackle D.J. Humphries (MCL sprain) remains doubtful.

Junior cornerback Marcus Roberson (ankle) is expected to play, as is sophomore defensive end Jon Bullard (knee swelling).

Starting middle linebacker Michael Taylor, injured in the loss to GSU, is out with a Grade 2 MCL sprain, but the injury will not require surgery. However, freshman linebacker Alex Anzalone, also hurt in the loss, will have offseason shoulder surgery.

QUOTABLE

“I love you guys. … I don’t have any problem with anybody. Everybody has an opinion and everybody is certainly entitled to that. That’s part of it. That’s part of the job. I don’t have any issue with that. … If it’s personal to me, then maybe I’ve gone a little over the edge in those situations. That’s who I am. I say what’s on my mind, I tell you the way it is. I won’t beat around it or anything. I don’t have any problem with anybody sitting in the room. I really don’t, from the stand point of you’ve got jobs to do. And sometimes your opinion may be different from mine. One of my favorite sayings, and if you’ve worked with me before, it’s ‘let’s agree to disagree.’ And that’s fine. I’m involved in day-to-day operation of the program. You’ve got to see the big picture of where we are and more than anything where we’re headed. It’s been very frustrating, and it’s all on me. I get all that and we need to improve and get better, and that’s what we’re going to do. But I ain’t got any problem with any of you.”

-- Will Muschamp, on his relationship with the media 

November 25, 2013

HOOPS: Wilbekin reinstated

GAINESVILLE -- Late last week, No. 15 Florida topped Middle Tennessee State by double-digits without a point guard, but coach Billy Donovan’s offensive gamble lasted just a single contest.

Florida -- shorthanded with just seven available scholarship players -- will receive a much-needed boost Monday against Jacksonville (7 p.m.) as point guard Scottie Wilbekin returns to action following a six-game suspension.

“He’s done everything. I’m really proud of him,” Donovan said. “As I have mentioned before, he has really stayed on course since last spring.”

Gatorzone(Courtesy gatorzone.com)

UF's senior point guard, a preseason all-conference pick and one of the top defensive guards in the country, was suspended indefinitely June 10 after violating team rules for the second time in eight months. Donovan actually gave Wilbekin the option to transfer, but the senior chose to earn (and fight) his way back onto the team.

“He’s grown up in a lot of ways. I think that he obviously made some poor choices last year. You would hope that situation would have been kind of an eye-opener for him, with his level of accountability and responsibility to himself and to his team,” Donovan explained. “For whatever reason, that experience, those first three games last year, did not register with him at all, at the level I wanted it to. And I think with the situation we put him in the spring, as it related to him having to work his way back on the team, not doing anything in Summer B or Summer A with our team, going through the conditioning in the month of August and September away from our team, slowly getting him back. The biggest thing I’ve noticed is a total change in his attitude, his behavior. Scottie was never ever a bad kid. It was of kind of like a warrior mentality, like, ‘I’ll take anything on. I can deal with it.’ And I think he’s gotten a lot more humble. I think he has a much, much better understanding of how his actions and things that he does impact not only himself, but other people. I really have seen a great growth in him.”

Wilbekin, who averaged 9.1 ppg. and 5.1 apg. in 29 starts last season, returns at an important time for Florida. Freshman point guard Kasey Hill sustained a high-ankle sprain in last Monday’s win over Southern, forcing Donovan to juggle as many as four guys at the position during Thursday’s 20-point win over MTSU. 

Hill remains in a boot except during rehab activities and is expected to miss around a month with the injury.

Following Monday’s road tilt with JU (2-3), Florida (4-1) faces a brutal schedule over the next three weeks: home vs. FSU, at No. 13 Connecticut, home vs. No. 2 Kansas and vs. No. 21 Memphis in Madison Square Garden. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Changes looming, but Muschamp not going anywhere

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s historic defeat to Georgia Southern -- a middling and mediocre Football Championship Subdivision team with double-digit losses to Samford, Wofford and Appalachian State -- ignited a wildfire in an-already toxic environment. 

A seething Gator Nation hoped (and presumed) a seismic coaching shakeup was looming. One week prior to Saturday’s embarrassing loss, Florida fans were told to “get a grip,” and then the Gators dropped a home game to a FCS foe winless in 20 tries against FBS competition.

But to the dismay of a disgruntled fan base, embattled head coach Will Muschamp isn’t going anywhere.

“It’s all disappointing. It’s hard to really measure it,” Muschamp said following Florida’s sixth straight loss. “It’s my job to get it fixed. We will get it fixed.”

Muschamp will presumably get that chance.

Boom(Courtesy bleacherreport.com)

Despite presiding over one of the worst defeats in school-history -- the Gators paid the Eagles $550,000 to come into The Swamp and humiliate a team that won 11 games just last season -- UF’s third-year coach is all-but-assured to return in 2014.

UF’s 4-7 campaign, its first losing season since Jimmy Carter was president, has been effectively written off by the school’s administration because of the team’s crippling injury situation, losing 10 players to season-ending surgeries including quarterback Jeff Driskel, star defensive tackle Dominique Easley and three offense tackles.

Two weeks ago, following a then-momentous home loss to Vanderbilt, athletics director Jeremy Foley released a public vote of confidence, saying he’s “a thousand percent convinced” in Muschamp’s leadership. Despite Saturday’s harrowing defeat, the administration’s sentiment hasn’t changed, according to UF spokesperson Steve McClain.

On Sunday, McClain told ESPN’s Joe Schad that Foley’s position remains resolute. 

But while Muschamp will survive the tidal wave of criticism, Florida’s program remains seemingly directionless and answerless.

UF’s defense -- Muschamp’s brainchild -- surrendered 429 yards rushing, but for the first time all season, Muschamp lashed out at UF’s incompetent offense.

Florida’s coach called their struggles “infectious,” while distancing himself from beleaguered coordinator Brent Pease. ..."

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ICYMI: Here's the gamer, notebook and grades from Florida's embarressing loss to Georgia Southern. 

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